Nolan comes face-to-face with his grandfather's old associate.
|Chapter 6 - Show Me the Money|
Richard Blair was right. The Second Street Newsstand had The New York Times. I bought Wednesday's issue but wouldn't be able to visit the storage unit until Saturday. I figured that was current enough to prove this wasn't a hoax.
As I worked on my correspondence class in the library, I kept drifting off on the internet to the Binghamton art heist. I was beginning to obsess over the story. Reuniting the Genova Luci series put the curator on the fast track among the elite art community.
His name was Charles Wellington and one article described him as a "young rising star." An accompanying picture showed a striking and distinguished face. All of the New York museums were courting him with generous offers to leave the Binghamton Museum of Art.
But just as quickly as his star had risen, he crashed and burned when the Sergio Ricci's were stolen from his museum. As curator, security wasn't necessarily his responsibility, but nevertheless, he was held responsible for losing the art treasure. I pulled up pictures of people openly weeping when they learned of the heist.
I felt a twinge of guilt knowing I possessed art that meant so much to so many people, but I'd already set the plan in motion. Richard Blair was expecting me to send a current picture of the art. I also thought about Mama working two jobs and how I could make her life easier.
I figured many of those people pictured weeping over the stolen artwork were long gone since so many years had passed. Out of curiosity I pulled up the website for the Binghamton Art Museum and was surprised to see that the curator was still Charles Wellington.
I clicked on his name and his picture came up revealing an old and tired looking man with bags under his eyes. I imagine losing the Sergio Ricci's was a burden that weighed on him every day.
On Saturday morning I rode my bicycle to the storage unit and propped the Genova Luci series against the wall and placed the New York Times on the floor in front. I set the flash on my camera app and got a good shot.
I found the cell number for Richard Blair and texted the picture. Within thirty seconds my phone was ringing.
"Okay, kid, let's do this. Tell me where to meet you and I can be there this evening."
There was desperation in his voice which alarmed me. His eagerness took me aback. We hadn't even discussed the value of the art.
"I'd rather wait until Wednesday," I replied.
"Wednesday? Why Wednesday?"
"That's my afternoon off from work."
"Look, August Denton the third, I'm holding a case that has a million dollars in cash, but you want to wait until your day off?"
"A million dollars?"
"Yes. It's not quite twenty percent but you'll just have to settle for it. Remember, I'm the one taking all the risks."
I wasn't so sure Richard Blair was the only one taking the risks. I felt extremely uneasy about the whole thing.
"It's got to be Wednesday. Sorry."
"Okay, name a time and place."
"Two-thirty. Junction Heights Public Library."
"Where is the art?"
"Not far from the library. I'll take you to it when I've got the money."
"Fine. Send me your picture so I'll know I'm talking to the right person when I get there."
I turned the camera around towards my face and clicked a picture. I sent the picture to Blair and we ended the call.
If I had been able to witness the scene on Richard Blair's end of the call, I would have observed a half dozen wise guys burst into laughter when my photo appeared.
Fat Eddie wanted to hold the phone. He studied the picture of me in a Steelers ball cap and smiled.
"Counselor, your life is dependent on a teenager with a mild case of acne." More laughter erupted.
Fat Eddie provided a series of loans to Blair who was woefully behind on his payments. The only reason he wasn't in the East River was that Fat Eddie was intrigued with his story.
Far fetched as it may have sounded, even a small chance of scoring millions of dollars was worth keeping the failed attorney alive to see how things worked out.
"Looks like you're going to be our guest for a few more days."
Wednesday's lunch special at The Junction Diner was meatloaf but Belinda Davis opted for the vegetable plate.
She stirred her coffee and opened the Cloverdale Chronical. The headline read, "School Bond Referendum Added to Ballot."
Beneath the fold was a grainy surveillance photo taken at J.J. Blinks Jewelry Store at the Cloverdale Mall. The caption read, "Unidentified teenager tries to sell $20,000 diamond."
The story was only a paragraph and described a kid walking in off the street with an extremely rare diamond. The story raised questions and provided no answers.
Belinda Davis studied the surveillance photo and observed that the kid's Steelers ball cap obscured his face. His slight built frame was the same as her client's. It was the client who was studying diamonds at the Junction Heights Public Library.
I had butterflies in my stomach all morning knowing I would be coming face to face with one of Grandpa's associates. Around two o'clock I began looking out the window of the computer lab in anticipation of Richard Blair's arrival.
I watched an Econoline van pull into the parking lot and observed an older man emerge. He was tall and wore a dark suit. He had that New York look. I stood where he would see me as he entered.
I made eye contact from across the room and he headed in my direction. Ms. Ellis stepped out and asked if she could assist him and he said he was just browsing. He stopped short of me and pretended to be looking at the stacks.
My first impression of Richard Blair was not a good one. He was in a nice suit, but it was wrinkled. His hair was combed but he still looked disheveled. He was clean shaven but had some careless knicks on his chin and neck.
He pulled a book from the stacks and sat in a chair nearby. Ms. Ellis was busy at the check-out counter as I moved close to Blair.
He was first to speak as he looked down into the open book. "Are you ready to get this thing done?"
"Then what are you waiting for? Shall we step out to my van?"
I looked at the time. "I can't leave the library until three o'clock."
Richard Blair glanced at his wrist watch and sighed. He was so much older than what I'd pictured. His face was gaunt, and his hands were wrinkled and lined with bulging veins.
It was the longest twenty minutes of my life waiting for three o'clock. I would occasionally look out at the van he'd arrived in and then glance at him. He was studying me the entire time and grinned whenever we made eye contact.
When three o'clock arrived, I suggested he go out and wait in the van. I didn't want Ms. Ellis to see me leaving with him. That would be weird.
Shortly after three I left the library and walked over to the Econoline van and opened the passenger side door and hopped in. Blair was in the driver's seat, but I was surprised to see two other individuals sitting in the back.
They were dressed in athletic suits with gold chains around their necks. Richard Blair explained they were there to provide security.
"I'm carrying a million dollars cash to pick up multi-million dollars-worth of art and I'm in my mid-seventies. Of course, I'm going to have security."
That put my mind at ease for only a few seconds because I picked up on a light whiff of body odor and it was coming from Blair. I hadn't noticed it in the library, but in the van where he had been driving for ten hours, the odor lingered. Something wasn't right about this arrangement.
"Where to, kid?"
"Can I see the money?"
"Sure. It's right here."
One of the guys in the back slid a large case forward. I looked down at it and there was a small padlock on the latch. I was growing increasingly nervous.
"Can you unlock it, please? Show me the money."
I tried to make eye contact with Richard Blair but he sat at the steering wheel looking straight ahead and appeared detached.
"No dice, kid. Show us the art and we'll show you the money."
I decided to bail and reached for the door handle. I jerked it over and over but the door wouldn't open. The two guys in the back laughed at me as Richard Blair continued to look vacantly into the library parking lot.
End of chapter 6