The Seven Day Masquerade
By Brian Boyd
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Moore surveyed the small, dimly lit gallery. He couldn't help but think that the five paintings everyone was making such a fuss about, were – well, they were awful. However, he was being paid for his detection skills, not his abilities as an art critic. The 'Masquerade' exhibition had caused quite a stir in the press; each painting was worth a cool million!
"Well Mr. Moore, what’s your verdict?" said Mr. Gibbons, the curator, hovering nervously.
Moore looked thoughtfully at the gallery. He had wracked his brains for possible ways a criminal might try to take the paintings. The walls and ceiling were solid concrete. There was no cellar below the floor and the only door had a security guard posted beside it. There were no windows, and both air vents were no bigger than a shoebox.
"It's my belief that these five paintings are impossible to steal," said Moore distantly.
"I sincerely hope so," said a small, bald-headed man as he marched into the gallery.
"Ah, Detective Moore, allow me to introduce the man who created these masterpieces ...Mr. Everett Quesada," said the curator.
"Forgive me, Mr. Moore," said the little man, "I'm sorry if I seem ill-tempered, but I'm sure you heard about the attempted theft of the entire exhibition when it was showing in New York last month?"
"Yes indeed! That was a most unpleasant business. I'm only glad these ...fine works of ...art were not lost to the public," said Moore, smiling warmly.
"So you see, the exhibition is called 'Masquerade' because the outward appearance of these paintings conceals the real truth."
Moore stifled a yawn as Quesada’s speech dragged painfully on. The public had turned out in droves for the opening day of the controversial exhibition.
"Masks are a part of us all. We each wear many masks every day, often unconsciously," said Quesada.
Moore turned his attention elsewhere. The guard at the door seemed alert. The curator was looking pleased with the big attendance. The crowd was mostly made up of families and art enthusiasts, plus a handful of reporters.
The lights went out and the alarms went off.
Everything happened in an instant. Even Detective Moore was taken by surprise as the room erupted into a confused turmoil. He was jostled this way and that. The voices of Mr. Gibbons, the guard and Everett Quesada could be heard shouting instructions amidst the commotion and the din of the alarm. Moore tried to move towards the door, but the chaos in the room made it impossible to move.
The lights were restored and a calm settled on the room as the alarms were shut off. The calm lasted all of ten seconds.
"'The Mask of the Medusa'!"
Quesada’s wail of dismay drew everyone’s attention.
"It's been stolen!"
A gasp went up as everyone looked at the empty picture frame.
The 'Masquerade' exhibition was temporarily closed. The only people in the gallery were the security guard, Detective Moore, Mr. Gibbons and Everett Quesada.
"'Impossible to steal' you said!" snapped Quesada accusingly.
Moore shot the artist a glance and he fell silent. Impossible - that’s how it seemed. Detective Moore didn’t like to admit it, but he was feeling baffled.
'The Mask of the Medusa' had been cut cleanly from its frame. A craft knife had been found discarded on the gallery floor. Whoever had used it had thoughtfully wiped it clean of any fingerprints before dropping it.
Everyone had been thoroughly searched before they were allowed to leave – absolutely everyone, including the security guard and Moore himself - nothing. The guard assured them that nobody had left the room during the period of darkness.
"I really am most sorry," said Mr. Gibbons. "I can’t apologise enough. But I assure you the gallery is fully insured..."
"Insurance!" barked the artist. "You think money can replace my beloved painting? It’s one of a kind! Unique!"
The guard shuffled uneasily and the curator looked at a loss for words.
"Please Mr. Moore," said Quesada, "you’re reputed to be the city’s finest detective ...can’t you shed some light on this?"
"I do have a few theories ticking over. I’d rather not say anything until I’ve had a chance to talk to the suspects we're holding for questioning," replied Moore.
And with that, he left for the evening.
Moore sat dejected and deflated.
"Nothing at all?" asked the curator.
"I’m afraid not, Mr. Gibbons. I’ve thoroughly questioned everyone remotely suspicious who was in the gallery that day," said Moore.
He heaved a sigh. He had hoped for a lead of some kind, but he trusted his detective’s instincts ...and those people were innocent.
The blind man – couldn’t enjoy the paintings himself, but he’d brought along his young nephew.
The art lover – came to the gallery every week, and was always making notes and asking about the value of exhibits. But he was a harmless
art-geek, not a master criminal.
The big man with the beard – his records showed he’d spent time in prison after robbing a convenience store. That was hardly in the same league as art theft.
Blank after blank after blank.
The door was narrow. Nobody could have passed the guard.
"How?" said Moore, thinking aloud, "How’d they get it out?"
"Impossible, indeed!" said Mr. Quesada bitterly, "Tell me this Mr. Detective – how do you steal a painting that’s impossible to steal?"
"Please Mr. Quesada, I’m sure that Detective Moore is as upset as the rest of us, " said the curator, trying to diffuse a potential argument.
"Impossible, " murmured Moore. A glimmer of an idea was forming in his mind.
"How do you steal a painting that is impossible to steal, Mr. Gibbons?" said Moore striding into the room, bright and confident.
The guard, the artist and the curator were assembled in the gallery once more.
"I ...I really don’t know," said the curator in bewilderment.
"You don’t!" declared Moore triumphantly.
"That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard," said Quesada throwing his arms in the air. "The painting is clearly gone!"
"Gone from the frame, yes! But it hasn’t been stolen," said Moore.
"Will you stop talking in riddles, please Mr. Moore ...this is giving me a frightful headache," said Mr. Gibbons.
Moore walked to the centre of the room and turned to face the others.
"Gentlemen ...we know that the painting didn’t leave the room when the lights were out."
"That’s right," said the guard. "I was standing in the doorway the whole time. Nobody could've gone past me."
"And we searched every single person before they were released. Even the four of us were searched thoroughly," said Moore.
"Yes, yes, yes ...but where is this leading?"
Quesada was growing impatient again.
"It is my theory that the missing painting is still somewhere in this room!" said Moore, "I believe the criminal removed 'The Mask of the Medusa' from its frame and hid it somewhere in here with the intention of coming back to get it at a later date!"
"Of course!" cried Quesada. "Mr. Moore, that is genius."
"We shall begin our search at once," said the curator becoming cheerful in an instant.
For the rest of the afternoon the four men searched the gallery meticulously. They lifted the carpet, but found only bare stone floor. They unscrewed the coverings of the two air vents, but again they were disappointed. They even dismantled the fire extinguisher near the door – no luck.
Moore slumped. The painting hadn’t left the gallery, but it hadn’t stayed inside the gallery either. It had, quite simply, vanished.
"Good morning, Mr. Moore. I have made a decision to reopen the exhibition tomorrow for one final day before it moves on to Denver," said Everett Quesada as Moore walked into the gallery.
"I see. Even with one painting missing?" said Moore.
"Yes. I’ve decided it's the best thing to do. 'The show must go on' and all that," said the painter, trying to put on a brave face.
"Perhaps you'll be able to show all five paintings after all," said Moore with a knowing smile.
"What!? You’ve found 'The Mask of the Medusa'?" asked the curator excitedly.
"Not yet, no," said Moore. "But I’ve had another idea. Something that was staring us in the face."
The other three men gathered around as Moore explained, "There’s one place we didn’t look yesterday. Behind the four remaining paintings."
"So simple, yet we didn’t even think of it!" blurted the guard slapping a hand to his forehead.
"Ironic, really," said Moore, "since the exhibition is called 'Masquerade,' and the missing painting is masked by another painting."
Quickly the men removed the four paintings and the one empty frame from the walls, and found ...nothing.
"I was so sure," said Moore, hanging his head in despair.
"It was a good idea detective," said the artist. "Don’t be hard on yourself."
"At least we have the remaining pictures for the reopening of the exhibition tomorrow," observed the curator as they replaced the frames.
Once more the public and press were out in numbers. The recent theft had added fresh interest to the exhibition. Moore stood to one side and surveyed the scene. A thought suddenly occurred to him ...they had searched everyone as they left the gallery the day of the robbery but, maybe ...just maybe... A glint appeared in his eye as the detective mused over a new angle to his mask theory. One of a kind - the painting was one of...
The lights went out and the gallery was once again plunged into darkness as the deafening alarms rang out.
Moore stayed calm. This is what he was expecting. If his theory was right, then... thump! Someone ran into him in the dark and tumbled him to the floor. Moore shielded his head as people stumbled over him in the confusion.
The lights returned and the alarms were silenced once more.
"I’m most sorry Mr. Moore," said the curator, helping him to his feet. "I was running towards the door to assist the guard."
"No harm done, Mr. Gibbons. No bones broken."
"And no painting stolen!" shouted Mr. Quesada happily, "Look!"
The gallery was the same as before. The remaining four exhibits of 'Masquerade' still hung in their frames.
"Excellent," said Moore turning to the guard. "I think we should close the gallery for the rest of the day. Please assist the public in leaving the building."
As everyone shuffled out, Quesada and Moore joined Mr. Gibbons near the empty frame. With the public gone, the guard locked the door and joined the other three.
"Well, gentlemen, I think it’s time for this masquerade to come to an end," smiled Moore.
Quesada laughed. "Absolutely Detective Moore! Time for the exhibition to move on to Denver."
"I wasn’t referring to the exhibition," said Moore flatly, the smile fading from his face as he produced a gun and pointed it at Everett Quesada.
"What is the meaning of... " began the painter.
"Search him," said Moore to the guard.
Inside Quesada’s coat were two rolled-up canvases. The first was an exact copy of one of the exhibition’s remaining paintings – 'Behind the Mask'. The second was...
"'The Mask of the Medusa'!" said the curator. "But how?"
"It’s quite simple, really," said Moore. "Quesada aimed to steal his own painting and sell it on the black market. Then he planned to claim the insurance money for the painting - and
get the painting's value twice."
"But how did he get it out of here? Why did he bring it back today?" said the guard, scratching the back of his head.
"He didn’t. He knew he couldn’t get the painting out of the gallery, so he planned a little masquerade. He wanted to make it seem like the painting was gone."
"But we searched everywhere." said Mr. Gibbons, exasperatedly. "Even behind the paintings."
"Not quite - we looked behind the frames. That's not the same. I realised what had happened when I considered it all from a different angle. You see, we searched everyone as they left the gallery that opening day of the exhibition, but we didn’t search anyone as they came in. Nothing was taken away from the gallery – but something was added. Quesada here brought a duplicate of his 'Behind the Mask' painting ...probably had it rolled up inside his coat. No doubt he had an accomplice who made sure the lights would go out. He cut 'The Mask of the Medusa' from its frame, stuck it on top of the real 'Behind the Mask' painting and then covered it over with the copy of 'Behind the Mask'! All this time, there have been three paintings in that one frame!"
"The original painting, the stolen painting and the fake painting," mused the guard.
"I see," said Gibbons, "and today when the lights went out he simply removed the top two paintings, making it seem like nothing had changed."
"Correct! He assumed that if everything looked the same, nobody would get searched ... but I had a hunch there was something afoot that very first day I was introduced to our artist friend."
"What do you mean, detective?" said Gibbons.
Moore beamed proudly, "It’s a well known fact that criminal masterminds like to be cocky. They like to wave a clue right in front of your face. I’m willing to bet that this man’s real name isn’t Everett Quesada!"
In the guard's grip, the artist squirmed, his face as black as thunder.
"I don't understand," said Gibbons.
"If you take the name 'Mr. E. Quesada'," continued Moore, "and scramble the letters, you get..."
"Masquerade!" said the curator.
"Precisely," said Moore with a wink, "and it looks like we've unmasked our thief."