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You Stole My Breath Away

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Blaine Anderson was eating his sandwich slowly and trying to stretch out his cramped legs while keeping an eye on the building across the street. His partner was talking about the four girls he was currently juggling. He was a firm believer in never denying women the chance to enjoy his company and especially his body. Blaine was barely listening. He was used to Wesley Montgomery’s erratic love life. Apparently Wes had called girlfriend #4 by girlfriend #2’s name at a most inopportune time. It had not gone over very well. Wes was thinking it was time to look for a new #4.

“Why don’t you just try dating one girl at a time and then things like that won’t happen Wes,” suggested Blaine as he finished off his sandwich.

Wes looked at him horrified, “What for? Why limit yourself to one when there is a buffet of women just waiting out there to be pigged out on? I guess you wouldn’t understand seeing as how you like different jiggly bits than I do.”

“Just because I’m gay does not mean I don’t understand the concept of monogamy or the “being a slut” concept Wes,” sighed Blaine – tired of the conversation before it could even start. It seemed they had this same conversation at least once a week.

“I. am. not. a. whore!”

“I never said whore – I said slut,” clarified Blaine with a smirk on his face.

“As long as we are clear on the whore part,” said Wes.

Noticing movement at the far side of the building, Blaine sat up and motioned to Wes, “Something is moving…..relay the information to the other team.”

Both men snapped to attention. They were here to catch a thief and they were good at their job. Both men were part of the FBI Art Crime Team (ACT). Blaine had majored in Art History at Columbia and was recruited by the FBI right out of college. He had gone into the city for his interview and his roommates Wes and David Smith had tagged along that day. By the end of the day all three had taken the FBI entrance exam and had excelled at both the academic and the physical examinations. Wes and David had degrees in Finance and Business Administration. Due to Blaine’s degree in Art History he had been slotted into the Art Crime Team right away. The other two had joined the FBI as a lark and did not want to be separated from Blaine. All three men came from influential families and after a few phone calls all three had been assigned to the same team and the same duty station.

“David said their monitors did not pick up anything,” Wes said. “They sent two men in to recon the area but nothing suspicious was reported.”

“I know I saw something,” mumbled Blaine as he rubbed his eyes. They had been staking out this building since 8:00pm and it was now going on 4:00am. He was tired. Maybe he had imagined the slight movement he had seen. He didn’t want to think so but he was exhausted. They had received a tip that “The Girl in Red” was going to be stolen from the Museum of Modern Art and they had decided to stake out the museum every night that the painting was being displayed.

The painting had been drawn by Humberto “Beto” David, a famous painter who had lived in Germany at the start of World War II. Beto had a German mother and Spanish father and his time was divided up equally between Germany and Spain. His mother had been Jewish and she had not survived the concentration camp the family had been sent to at the height of the war. His father had been shot while leaving a synagogue after dropping off his wife for morning services the year before his mother died. Beto had taken refuge with friends and for a time he immersed himself in his painting. It was rumored that during the 2 years he was in hiding he had produced over a hundred finished masterpieces. Blaine had been fascinated with the history of this painter and had written his thesis on the man’s life and work. Unfortunately, very few of his painting survived the war. The paintings that did survive were said to be better than Picasso’s or Monet’s works. The last painting that had been sold at auction was sold for 30.1 million dollars and most people believed that the new owner had gotten a wonderful bargain.

The painting “The Girl in Red” was valued at 40 million dollars and needless to say the insurance company was quite nervous about the possibility of it being stolen. They had gone to the FBI and to NYPD to see if they could help keep their treasure from being lost. The FBI readily agreed to help NYPD. They didn’t do it out of the goodness of their heart but because they believed that this painting fit the profile of items that were being target by an extremely experienced thief that they had been tracking unsuccessfully for the past year. They agreed that their role would be advisory and only be actively involved when explicitly invited by the police department.

The Agent in Charge of Blaine’s unit had called a meeting last year to look into a rash of burglaries that had one thing in common. All the items that had been stolen had at some point belonged to Jewish families and had somehow ended up in the hands of Nazi sympathizers. Survivors of the Holocaust claimed many family heirlooms were stolen but the present day owners had documentation proving that they had “legitimately” acquired these items. All of the items stolen had at some point had their provenance questioned and this was the pattern that someone finally noticed and brought to the attention of the FBI.

AIC Adams had gathered his team together and Blaine was finally given the chance to be the team leader on this case. He was in charge and he fully planned on capturing this thief to prove to himself as well as to his father that he was man enough to get the job done. His detail was to consist of four agents and he chose Wes, David and Bob Barley as part of his team. Wes and David would try to follow the money and Bob was the resident electronic genius. Some said he was a modern day technological savant. He could perform magic on anything that did not have a human heart. His skills would definitely be needed. Each team member was given a dossier on the stolen items and when Blaine flipped through to the page where information on the perps should be there was nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

“Where is the list of suspects? My file is missing that page,” he said looking up at AIC Adams. “Where is our starting point?”

“That’s what has us stalled. We have no viable suspects. This group of thieves are professionals. They have not left us anything to work with. Interpol was following some leads since some of the items were stolen overseas but they have come up empty. The last item stolen was located in the states so they sent us their files and their good wishes. They are available if we need help but it is all ours as of yesterday.”

“How do we know it is a group?” asked Blaine.

“The amount of research, the fact that these people have not screwed up and the fact that they have every law enforcement agency in the world looking for them unsuccessfully leads us to believe it has to be a group. It would be almost impossible for a single person to accomplish all of these thefts. Some occurred with days of each other in different parts of the world. We will be working under the assumption that it is a group.”

“So where do we start?” asked Wes. Everyone looked at AIC Adams and he shrugged. “The only thing we have is a tip that came through Interpol that the painting “The Girl in Red” which is on loan to the Museum of Modern Art is the next item to be stolen.”

“Why that painting? What’s so special about it?” asked David.

“It was painted by Humberto “Beto”David and given to the family that helped hide him from the Nazis for two years. He painted a picture of their daughter wearing a red jacket against a bleak, gray city scene. She was standing by herself surrounded by people walking down the streets without noticing this lost child. Everything was painted in black and white except for the little girl. Have any of you seen Schindler’s List?”

“The movie?” asked Wes.

“No the grocery list – yes the movie! Well there is a scene in there where there are bodies piled everywhere and there is a little girl standing on the street in a red jacket. It is said that this scene was inspired by the painting. Agent Anderson, do you have anything to add? If I’m not mistaken, your thesis was on this artist.”

“Yes. Beto David had two strikes against him. He was Jewish and gay. The Nazi’s did not like either group. At the beginning of the war he was tolerated but once it was known that he was a homosexual he was arrested and about to be sent to a concentration camp. His friends were able to smuggle him out of the prison and he was hidden for two years before a jilted lover revealed his hiding place in a pique of jealousy. He was arrested and executed as a traitor.”

“Huh – I guess whoever coined the phrase “hell has no fury like a woman scorned” never met a jilted gay man before,” laughed Wes. “Ouch!” he cried as Blaine “accidentally” kicked him on the shins….hard.

“Agent Montgomery, I’m going to pretend I did not hear that comment. I will however leave a copy of the FBI’s updated policy on sexual harassment on your desk. Please read it so that we are all clear on what is acceptable behavior in the workplace.” Wes looked a little sheepish as he nodded in AIC Adams direction.

Blaine continued, “The painting disappeared after Mr. & Mrs. Stein were sent to Auschwitz for aiding and abetting a known traitor and it suddenly reappeared 20 years after the end of the war. The provenance of the painting was never in question when the Stein family owned it. Beto had personally written a message on the back of the canvas dedicating the painting to Heidi, the couples’ daughter. However, once the painting appeared in the possession of the Muller family the descendants of the Stein family immediately demanded the return of their property. The Muller’s contend that the painting was sold by Mr. Stein before he was sent to Auschwitz to procure funds so that his relatives would have enough money to take care of Heidi. The Muller family has tried to sell the painting at auction but as long as the provenance is being disputed the painting cannot be sold.”

Seeing the confused looks his team had, Blaine sighed. He had to remember that while Art History was his passion; his colleagues were more interested in the money trail.

“Why is provenance so important?” asked David.

“I am going to put this in terms you will understand,” said Blaine. “A work of art that has its provenance in order means that it is not a forgery or a reproduction. It also means that it is not a stolen or looted work of art. If “The Girl in Red” goes to auction without its provenance in order it might fetch up to 10 million dollars – might. Most serious collectors would be hesitant to dish out that much money for something that can turn out to be a forgery. If it goes to auction with an established provenance it could fetch up to 40 million dollars or more. See the difference?”

Blaine was glad to see that even Bob could understand the importance of provenance.

“Have any of the other items stolen been recovered or located? Sometimes they turn up in private collections,” Blaine asked AIC Adams.

“The items stolen have disappeared without a trace. We need to make sure this painting does not get stolen from the Museum. It is going to be displayed for 10 days starting on Saturday. That gives up 5 days to set up a surveillance schedule. We will be getting local police officers to help us with the stakeout. Agent Anderson, please have a detailed plan on my desk by tomorrow afternoon. Gentlemen, I will see you all tomorrow,” with these final words AIC Adams walked out of the room.

“Okay guys, I’m headed back to my office to draw up a schedule. Wes, I suggest you go get that sexual harassment policy and make sure you read the damn thing so that Adams doesn’t decide to write you up. David, start asking some of your contacts in the money business if any of them have heard about any big art purchases going down. Bob, go home and practice speaking to humans. You might have to do that on this case.”

“Wait – weren’t we going to go check out that new karaoke bar that just opened up downtown?” whined Wes.

“Maybe after we figure this case out or when we get a break. For now we got shit to do.” That shit – as he eloquently had stated - consisted of sitting in this seat staking out the Museum instead of singing at the new karaoke bar.

“I can’t even feel my ass anymore,” grumbled Wes as he spoke to David on his headset.