Ultimate Slylock Team-Up Thrillers.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, I know, but honestly. You’d think a place that’s got the highest crime rate in the entire animal kingdom would try to avoid having more priceless art museums per capita than laundromats.
The night outside is black. Utter black. Like the air is slowly turning into ink. It’s like living in a comic book that’s fallen apart, each patch of light is a panel where things happen and you can see it, but they’re all drifting away from eachother through black empty outer space, and each one you come to is just a little bit further away.
The museum looks like a tomb when we first get in. Dark, echoing, monolithic, lit only from outside and from so far above that you might as well be underground. The difference is so pronounced when the curator flicks on the lights that for a second you’re not sure where you are.
You are the detectives? Do forgive me, I was engaged on the telephone.
“You said something about some paintings going missing.”
Indeed. This way.
“What’s wrong, Max?”
Nuthin, I… though I saw da statue… uh, it moved.
“Never mind, it’s a long story.”
I can’t decide which I despise more, that they had the audacity to steal from the collection, or that they had the disrespect to step on the other works. Why anyone established an art museum here is beyond me.
“Join the club.” I take a quick look around. “But this was no ordinary art theft.”
What do you mean?
“Why take down paintings you don’t mean to steal? Unless he’s so crazy in love with one artist that he wants to ruin all the other stuff, it’d just mean that the job would be longer and there’d be more chance of somebody stumbling in where they weren’t welcome.” I take a look around the room. “Max, go around and gimme a count of how many empty spots we got on the wall.”
Er, oughtn’t I to be the one who-
“No, I need your story about what happened here.”
There’s very little to tell. I was working late, when I heard a noise. I came out, and saw a figure moving in the darkness. I could just make out the rope hanging from the skylight. I shouted, and he immediately climbed up the rope and disappeared. I notified the police without delay.
“You sure did. What, in your professional opinion, is the reason for the stack on the floor?”
That is the meat of the mystery, is it not? I would venture that there was, in fact, more than one thief present, one on the roof, and one in the building, and that they intended to use the rope to make off with many works at once, hence the stack directly below. I merely uninterrupted them before they could tie off the rope and haul it up.
“So it’s possible that they didn’t get away with anything.”
Sly, I been all da way around da room. There’s only these four missing.
“Yet we have six canvases on the floor here.” I turn to the curator. “Unless Santa broke in with some presents, I think this is one more reason to say this wasn’t an ordinary art theft.”
Y-yes, quite inexplicable.
“No, actually, I think I can explain it. The easiest way to rob somebody is to make em think you didn’t, after all. Who’s gonna come after what they haven’t missed? So you just set up the crime to make it look like you got interrupted before you could take anything, usually with a quick bit of forgery, you waltz off with the real goods, and the victim gets left thinking exactly what both parties want him to think: that no crime ever occurred.”
His mouth is hanging open like a saloon door. And that’s what you think happened?
He shuts it with a click.
“That’s what he wants me to think. But you interrupted him, which means we’ve got both the forgery and the real thing in this stack.”
I, well! I am impressed, detective! Very impressed! You’ve completely unraveled the-
I raise a paw to cut him short. “Not yet. The thief made three mistakes.”
Oh. This doesn’t seem to be heartening news.
“One, he busted the glass after he stacked the paintings. He didn’t come through the skylight, which means he’s still in here. Or was until you unlocked the door.”
You mean… I let him get away?!
“No, because he made another mistake. There was more than one thief tonight, remember?” I look him straight in the eyes. “He wore the same disguise as the last time he talked to me.”
Nobody moves for a long moment. It’s like the black outside somehow seeped in here, and we can’t go on until one of us, at least, gets to the next patch of light and can see to take a step. Then he shudders kinda, looks like the feeling you get in your teeth when someone runs their nails on a chalkboard, then he’s completely in control of himself.
I apologize, detective. Completely different voice, and once the fake mustache and glasses come off, completely different face. He’s younger than I expected. I’m nothing but ashamed of my work tonight, though somehow I don’t think you’re an enthusiastic fan.
“Can’t say I am- what is your name, anyway?”
I was under the impression that I had a right to remain silent.
“Fair enough. But you made one more mistake.”
“Who were you on the phone with when we arrived?”
And that’s when he comes closest to breaking down. He doesn’t, but he’s within an inch of it. I want you to understand, detective, that this, this… amaturish work. It wasn’t mine.
“I don’t doubt that.”
It was just… she said she had a brother, and he needed my help, and I knew she was only using me, but somehow she made me not care. I was tired, I was sick of it all, but she seemed to matter, even if nothing else did. And I knew the job was going wrong. I knew you could see through me. But she, she somehow made me not care anymore. He looks at me beseechingly. Can you understand that much, detective? Why I was so stupid?
Maybe I should have said so. I wanted to. But there’s only so long you can wait before it’s too late to say these things, and before I could just give him the quick nod or half smile that meant yeah, I knew what he meant, she’d played me too, someone killed the lights.
There’s sounds of a struggle in the darkness around the corner, but I can’t leave one prisoner to go after another. “Max!”
He’s gone, Sly! Da joik tripped me an busted ass out da front door!
Oh, says the phony curator, good. She asked me to make sure he got away.
I’m glad I can’t see him smiling.
The squad cars are pulling up when we get him cuffed and bought outside. The only lights are the flashing red and blue. It makes everything look slow and unreal, like christmas lights in a fever dream. I don’t stay to see them haul him off. I don’t bother looking up his name. I’ve got other things on my mind.
I need a drink, and some place to think this through.
Some place where I won’t be reminded of her.
I fade off into the black silence. It’s gonna be a long time before I end up back in the light again.