Nolan Kirby returns the stolen masterpiece to the museum.
|Chapter 8 - A Greater Treasure|
The wise guys dumped Richard Blair's body in the Susquehanna River and Fat Eddie considered the delinquent loans settled.
I found myself in an interrogation room the next morning with my mother by my side, Belinda Davis and a detective across from me.
Belinda was first to speak. "Nolan, I don't know where to begin. Should we talk about the diamond first? Should we talk about the mobsters who nearly kidnapped us? Or maybe you want to explain what artwork they were looking for."
Mama wiped her eyes and said, "You're just like your grandpa and you're going to end up like him." She glanced at Belinda and the detective. "My father was a career criminal. He died a few months ago in prison."
The detective had steely eyes and leaned across the table. "We found their van abandoned at an interstate rest stop. Who are those guys?"
"I don't know."
"What made them think you had valuable artwork?"
"I don't know. Maybe they had me confused with someone else."
"Oh, I see. They had you confused with some other sixteen-year-old boy who has valuable artwork."
"You said the art was in a storage unit. What storage unit?" asked Belinda.
I shrugged. "I was just making the whole thing up. Trying to buy us some time."
Belinda and the detective exchanged doubtful looks.
"Nolan, we believe those men may be connected to the mafia. Do you mind explaining how you got involved with them?"
I shook my head and said, "I have no idea who any of them are."
Belinda and the detective stepped out of the room briefly.
Mama turned to me and said, "You better start answering their questions. Do you want to go to that detention center?"
When they returned to the interrogation room, Belinda placed a newspaper in front of me. There was a grainy surveillance photo of me at the jewelry store. I was pleased that my Steelers ball cap concealed my face.
"Mind explaining this?"
"That's not me."
Belinda laughed. "Nolan, I took your mugshot to the jeweler myself. He's positive it was you who tried to sell that diamond."
I slumped in my chair.
"Where did you get that diamond?" asked Mama.
"I found it."
Belinda stood. "Okay, that's just about enough, Nolan. Apparently, you're not concerned about Robert E. Lee Detention Center."
I also stood. I was getting tired of this continued threat. "You're going to revoke me? For what? Am I under arrest? Is it a violation of my probation to find a diamond on the sidewalk? Is it a violation of my probation to be a victim of those men? If it is, I want a lawyer. I want a lawyer now!"
I was at a stand off with all the adults in the interrogation room and it was unclear who would blink first.
There was a long uncomfortable silence in the small room. Finally, Belinda Davis turned to Mama and said, "Take him home."
It seemed like a long ride home as Mama fought back tears and whimpered, "You're going to be just like your grandpa."
"No, I'm not, Mama. You'll see."
I stayed in my room for the rest of the day and leafed through my school notes. I studied a printout from the Binghamton Museum of Art. Charles Wellington, the curator, charged $125 for an appraisal.
I called the phone number provided.
"Binghamton Museum of Art. How may I direct your call?"
"Charles Wellington, please."
"One moment, please."
They put me on hold and I listened to classical music for a couple of minutes. When the music stopped, I heard an old strained voice on the other end of the line.
"This is Charles Wellington."
"Hello, Mr. Wellington. Your website says you offer art appraisals."
"Yes. That is correct."
"Would you be available Saturday to look at some art?"
"I'm very busy on Saturday. It's opening day of a new exhibit."
"Saturday is my day off. I'd really appreciate it if you could take just a few minutes to look at what I've got."
"Is it a collection, or a single piece?"
"It's three paintings."
"Who is the artist?"
"It's unsigned." (That of course was a fib.)
"Hmm. I suppose I could step away for a moment around 3:00."
"Great. Thank you so much!"
"May I have your name?"
I almost told him I was August Denton the third, but that was the name I used when I was up to no good. My plan for Saturday was perhaps the only correct action I was taking since Cynthia Starr gave me the key to the storage unit. I was going to return the priceless art treasure to where it had been stolen.
"Okay Mr. Kirby, you'll need to check your art in at the front desk and let them tag it."
My next call was to my best friend, Ritchie.
"Hey man, what are you doing Saturday?"
"I don't know. What's up?"
"I need a huge favor."
"Sure, what do you need?"
"I need a ride to Binghamton."
"New York? That's at least a four-hour drive."
"I'll give you $500."
"What time do you want to leave?"
The next day at the Junction Heights Public Library I reviewed all the websites on the 1964 Binghamton art heist. I studied Charles Wellington's youthful face when he was a rising star in the New York art community. I clicked on the picture of the people openly weeping when it was announced the Sergio Ricci's had been stolen.
It was wrong of me to try to sell the artwork. I was almost relieved when the deal went south and dashed my hopes of having a million dollars cash. I was lucky I didn't get killed by Richard Blair and his wise guys. I owed my life to my probation officer.
I clicked on the current picture of Charles Wellington and looked into his sad eyes. I realized what a sin it had been to keep the Genova Luci series hidden away all these years. What was Grandpa thinking? Was everything about money to him?
Mama hardly said a word to me since the interrogation room and wasn't even interested in where Ritchie and I were headed on Saturday morning. I directed him to the Extra Space self-storage and he helped me carry the hard-shell cases to his car.
"Your grandfather left you a storage unit?"
"There's art in these cases?"
"Stolen art. Right."
"Why are we taking them to Binghamton, New York?"
"Because that's where they were stolen from. We're returning them."
"Why? Is there a reward or something?"
I never thought about a reward until Ritchie mentioned it. Perhaps there was one but that wasn't what motivated me. My art appreciation correspondence course opened my eyes to the beauty of art. Seeing how upset the people were when the Sergio Ricci's were stolen helped me realize what the work meant to others.
"I don't know. It's just the right thing to do."
"What kind of art is it?"
"Sergio Ricci. He helped usher in the futurism movement of the early 1900's with his Genova Luci series of variations of the port lights."
Ritchie did a double take as we pulled onto the interstate. "Dude, you sound smart now."
I stared out the window watching the scenery fly by as we made our way to Binghamton. I thought about what Ritchie said to me about sounding smart. I realized at that moment there was a treasure greater than anything you could stash away in a storage unit.
Charles Wellington never lost his touch for procuring art for the Binghamton Museum. Saturday was opening day for his latest exhibit: "Primitive Folk Art of the Appalachia." Beatrice Snyder, New York Times art critic was on hand to write a review.
Ritchie and I arrived a half hour early and we realized we were underdressed when we saw all the guests. We were wearing cargo shorts and the crowd had on designer clothing. We checked in at the front desk as Charles Wellington had instructed.
"We have a three o'clock appointment for an appraisal."
She put a little check by my name in her appointment book and pushed her reading glasses down on her nose as she inspected us. Perhaps we weren't dressed for the occasion but the professional hard-shell cases we carried demonstrated we should be taken seriously.
The receptionist at the front desk tagged each case and called for an attendant to escort us to the appraisal room. As we walked past the crowd, I noticed some of the guests were drinking champagne. There was a lady in cat eyed glasses wearing a smart business suit studying us as we passed by.
Ritchie and I were taken to an oval room with a table and chairs in the middle. We were told to wait there for Mr. Wellington.
I unsnapped the cases and propped the Genova Luci series against the wall, leaving the cloth draped across each piece to conceal them. Ritchie and I sat at the table and waited.
"So, do you think this guy is going to be happy to get the artwork back?"
I looked at Ritchie and nodded. "Oh yeah."
I thought about how Charles Wellington might react when I unveiled the long-lost art and asked Ritchie, "Do you remember our eighth grade CPR training?"
Charles Wellington appeared in the doorway. He was tall and his complexion was ashy grey. "Nolan Kirby?"
I raised my hand.
"I have about fifteen minutes." He glanced at the cloth draped over the canvases.
I stood and extended my hand. "How do you do, Mr. Wellington?"
He gave me an odd expression. "How old are you?"
He sat at the table and looked me up and down.
"My grandpa was responsible for the 1964 art heist. The Genova Luci series has been stashed away for nearly forty years, most recently in a storage locker in Junction Heights, Pennsylvania."
Charles Wellington's face drooped and his jaw hung open. He gazed at the cloth draped canvases. I walked over and removed the coverings one at a time. The vivid colors of the Sergio Ricci's instantly brightened the dull appraisal room.
I knew flowers bloomed but I never realized until this moment that a man could bloom. Charles Wellington's face transformed from an ashy grey to a rosy red. A smile stretched across his face and tears fell from his eyes.
About this time, Beatrice Snyder, the lady in the cat-eye glasses was on her way to the restroom and just happened to glance into the appraisal room as I unveiled the Genova Luci series.
The folk art of the Appalachia review was intended for page 3F, however what she now witnessed would be the Sunday headline of The New York Times.
End of chapter 8