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THE ARRANGER STORIES
•••••••••••••

The Auction
The River Mist
 



THE ARRANGER STORIES
b
y Crystal Jones
© 2007      
the RIVER MIST
Ricollegandosi a una lunga tradizione storica, letteraria e cinematografica che, a partire da Robin Hood, vede come protagonisti eroi che operano al di fuori della legge, Crystal Jones mette in scena in questa sua nuova serie Lady Sylvia e i suoi amici, tutti cittadini al di sopra di ogni sospetto, che segretamente organizzano furti d'arte. A beneficio di loro stessi, ovviamente, ma anche con un forte senso di solidarietà verso i più deboli. Impossibile? Leggete per credere!


Lady Sylvia had been invited to dinner at her friends’ house.
“I never realised you and Mark were vegetarians. Apart from anything else, it’s good for keeping your weight down and is so tasty. I did enjoy that celery soup, you must give me the recipe, Leonora!”

Sir Mark had asked Lady Sylvia to come that particular day because the famous picture, The River Mist, was arriving, as his aunt had left it to him in her will.

“Now shall we have coffee and unveil the painting all together?” said the baronet inviting his guest to come into the next room.

“It’s extremely generous of you to give it up for auction for the benefit of The Children’s Hospital. If all goes well, we shall be building the new ward by next year,” remarked Lady Sylvia now settling down on the Queen Anne sofa.

“You know why we’re so interested in giving this picture to the hospital, don’t you?” said Sir Mark. “Our son, Stephen, was taken ill when he was seven. He was at death’s door but they looked after him and saved him and – well, you’ve seen him yourself – he’s grown up healthy and is studying medicine now!”

The picture was already positioned on the wall opposite and had a curtain in front of it. Sir Mark, smiling at his own theatricality, pulled the curtain away from the picture with a flourish.

“And here we have The River Mist – painted by the famous Scottish artist…”

Leonora interrupted her husband, “Mark – oh no – that’s not The River Mist at all!”

All three friends stared in horror at the fake picture.

“It’s a painting of a river, it’s true – but it certainly isn’t The River Mist!” observed Sir Mark, not quite being able to piece everything together.

“It looks pretty amateurish but it’s about the same size of The River Mist.” intervened Lady Sylvia going up to the picture and scrutinising it. “Very clever, the burglars took the real picture away and left you with a fake one so that its absence wouldn’t be noticed immediately.”

The brutal fact started to sink in. Sir Mark went pale and had to sit down to recover from the shock, while his wife poured him out a glass of water.

“Call the police, Leonora – I never imagined a thing like this could happen to us!” said the distraught baronet. “They must get it back for us! The Children’s Hospital mustn’t lose out on this!”

Leonora immediately left the room to ring 999.

“I’m so sorry all this has happened but – er – it’s insured, of course, isn’t it? If you don’t get the picture back, you can give the insurance money to the hospital!” pointed out Lady Sylvia.

Sir Mark shook his head with dismay, “We haven’t had time to insure it – we only received it yesterday!”

“They’ll send someone over shortly,” Leonora reported, coming back from the phone. “Now I’ll have a quick look around to see if anything else is missing.”

“I don’t suppose they’ll ever find the burglars.” Sir Mark said sadly collapsing back onto the sofa. “Oh Sylvia, I’m so sorry – your children’s hospital charity – it’s a complete disaster! But I swear I’ll try and make it up to you – I’ll sell some of our antique furniture – it won’t be enough but at least I will have made a contribution.”

“Mark, please don’t make yourself ill over the matter! Let the police make their investigations and see what happens.”

“I fear the picture is far away already,” said Sir Mark woefully, “you know, this type of thing is sometimes bought as an investment even though it can’t be sold on the legal market. That’s how they launder their money!”

Lady Sylvia desperately wanted to help her friend get his picture back and a plan was already forming in her mind.

“They don’t seem to have taken anything else,” Leonora announced, back from inspecting the house. “Sylvia, I’m so sorry the evening has finished like this, let’s hope the police will be here soon.”

The next morning, Lady Sylvia rang her friend Pierre Amsang, “Could we meet today, Pierre? The coffee shop near your place at eleven o’clock, all right?”

Lady Sylvia and Pierre managed to get a table where they could talk undisturbed. “I suppose you want some information on the burglary… or even better, who contracted it,” said Pierre getting straight to the point. He had seen the news about the theft of the Scottish painting on television that morning.

“Was it anyone we know?” asked Lady Sylvia. “I don’t want to tread on anybody’s toes!”

“Et bien, it was obviously l’Infiltreur, the Infiltrator. But as to the name of the person who contracted the job, there was someone mentioned in my antiques shop this morning, an Armenian fellow who bought up some property in the East End a couple of years ago, a bingo hall, had it all flattened and rebuilt from scratch into a super futuristic-style home with strange lighting and things and a couple of rooms dedicated to works of art and antique furniture which he appears to be still furnishing, shall we say!”

Pierre Amsang’s mobile started ringing. “Allo? Ah oui, Albert! Quoi de neuf? Alors c’est bien lui ! Bon, merci et au revoir!” Pierre nodded, “Sylvia, it seems that it was the Armenian!”

“The Armenian? What’s his name, Pierre?”

“Alecko Kapikian. He’s in all sorts of businesses but, mostly, property development. Apparently he loves art, illuminated books and manuscripts amongst other things!”

“Alecko Kapikian?” she repeated, “I’ve heard that name before. How could I get to meet him, Pierre?”

“That’s a bit more difficult,” replied Pierre thinking for a moment. “You could try the Armenian Church on a Sunday morning. It’s not far from here!”

“Just a minute – I believe I met him at a wedding there last year. Has he got prematurely white hair and rather strangely focused dark eyes?”

Pierre Amsang laughed, “I couldn’t tell you, as I’ve never had the pleasure… but his photo was in a Sunday newspaper this week and there was also one of his futuristic home! Look, I’ve brought it along for you!”

Lady Sylvia got Alex to find Alecko Kapikian’s phone number which was ex-directory. She telephoned the Armenian that very evening.

“Mr. Kapikian! Excuse my phoning you – but we met at the Armenian church last year. We were introduced by a mutual friend, Kingston Voulto, and we talked about the wonderful icons…”

“Yes - I remember,” apparently Mr. Kapikian had very quick reflexes, “we discussed the fact that Armenia was the first Christian nation in the year three hundred and one… and you must be Lady Sylvia!”

“Yes, that’s right.” Lady Sylvia was surprised he remembered her.

“Well, I’m telephoning a number of people to help get funds for the LHCN – the charity which supports The Children’s Hospital, as we need to build a new ward for seriously ill children.”

“With pleasure Lady Sylvia – I’ll send you a cheque…”
”Might I come and collect it personally, as I’m always afraid that cheques can get lost in the post or something?” Lady Sylvia suggested.

“By all means. If you can manage tomorrow, come for tea and I’ll have some Armenian pastries sent in for you to try!”

The first thing Lady Sylvia noticed about Alecko Kapikian’s house was the high security. The former bingo hall had been converted into a spectacular modern building. There were CCTV cameras placed all around the house and twelve foot high spiked iron railings. Also, the gate could only be opened by first speaking through a video intercom with night vision. It was an ultra-modern house with lots of huge windows letting light in with hidden shutters which, she surmised, would close down instantly electronically.

Alecko Kapikian came forward to welcome Lady Sylvia as she walked through the gate. “Do come in, Lady Sylvia!” he said smiling at her. He now turned to a man standing behind him who looked like a bouncer. “Could you ask someone to bring some tea into the Greek Room please?” he said in perfectly colloquial English but with a slight accent which confirmed Lady Sylvia’s impression that he wasn’t born in the UK.

The bouncer vanished as they walked through the house. The Arranger saw that there were no dark corners and no prohibitive doors – only a feeling of total freedom. The lighting was adequate but not blatant, which made one feel comfortable. The other thing that was particularly noticeable was the sense of space, large rooms leading onto other rooms or ‘spaces’ with circular comforting furniture.

Mr. Kapikian lead Lady Sylvia through his home to a room at the back. It was totally different from the rest of the house she had seen. It was furnished with beautiful antique furniture and on a pedestal there was an exquisite Greek statue representing Odysseus disguised as a beggar.

A delicately-coloured tapestry hanging on the wall immediately attracted Lady Sylvia’s attention and she paused for a moment to contemplate it. On the opposite wall she could see photos of Alecko Kapikian with famous film directors who were either Armenian or of Armenian origin.

“I see you are an admirer of Armenian cinema, Mr. Kapikian!” remarked Lady Sylvia sitting down on a Georgian sofa.

“Yes, indeed. I like to support the cinema of my country – and the church – not that I’m really very religious – but I consider it part of our Armenian heritage!”

“These pastries are absolutely wonderful, Mr. Kapikian.” said Lady Sylvia trying out the delicious sweetmeats placed in front of her. “Thank you for introducing me to them!”

Mr. Kapikian went over to a small writing desk from where he extracted a cheque book and sat down. As he looked over to Lady Sylvia, he noticed that Lady Sylvia’s eyes were not focused on him. “I would like to make my small contribution to your charity – but, forgive me, Lady Sylvia, I have the impression that there must be some other reason for your coming here besides talking about cinema, cakes and hospital wards!” said the Armenian still studying her reaction.

Lady Sylvia realised that she must come to the point, “I can see you’re very perceptive. Well, what I said about the children’s ward was true. I am collecting money – and the real reason I’m here is because of the children’s ward!”

Mr. Kapikian frowned, “Not very clear, Lady Sylvia!”

The Arranger tried to reply as delicately as possible, “How can I put it? It’s a little misty, Mr. Kapikian!”

The expression in the Armenian’s strange dark eyes became frozen for a brief moment at hearing the word misty but immediately afterwards he regained his composure and smiled.
“I don’t really follow you.”

Noticing this minimal reaction, Lady Sylvia realised her gamble had paid off and continued, “It’s like a river that flows in the early morning and then suddenly disappears…”

Mr. Kapikian hesitated for a moment and then continued, “I see, but where exactly is this conversation leading to?”

Lady Sylvia spoke out. “Actually, I was really hoping for something quite different to go towards my charity! Two days’ ago Sir Mark Gilsen’s house was burgled and a very precious painting, The River Mist, that was intended to go under auction for the benefit of The Children’s Hospital, was removed, shall we say, from the legitimate owner’s house. Unfortunately the painting wasn’t insured.”

Mr. Kapikian seemed to be losing his composure, “My dear lady, what’s all this got to do with me?”

Lady Sylvia continued, “From the way it was done, we were able to establish who, from our circle of collaborators, actually did it. Maybe the name Infiltrator rings a bell?”

Mr. Kapikian blinked and replied without thinking, “You know The Infiltrator? I don’t understand. Are you trying to tell me you are involved in a certain type of…commerce?” Mr. Kapikian asked almost in disbelief.

Lady Sylvia nodded slightly and said, “But that is not the point. We are firmly determined to let those seriously ill children have what the auction money for the painting would have supplied them with: a new ward where they would be looked after properly.”

Now the Armenian was seeing her in a new light. “So we are part of the same… fraternity, more or less. Just imagine! What I still don’t understand is, why should I give the picture back? What would I get out of it?”

Lady Sylvia replied instantly, “Well, to start with, also Armenian children are being looked after in that hospital. And secondly, because in exchange for this personal favour I could extend the benefit of my expertise to you.”

Mr. Kapikian smiled, “Let’s not exaggerate! I’m not keen on embroidery!”
Lady Sylvia replied, “Speaking of embroidery, I could tell you that the tapestry you have on the wall over there, for example, is certainly not the Rochester medieval tapestry it purports to be, and is not even older than twenty years. It was made in a factory in Poland by a family who excel in this sort of bogus artefact. Well, I think you could do with the help of a real expert!”

At first Mr. Kapikian looked aghast. Then he remembered that he too had had some doubts on whether the tapestry was original or not at the beginning.

“I see.” he said. “Well, what can I say other than you are a remarkable lady and I’m willing to take you up on your offer.”

Mr. Kapikian sat down again opposite this astonishing woman. “Have you got some idea as to how on earth I could give it back?” he asked.

Lady Sylvia replied, “Please just put it in a safe wrapping and give it to the woman I will send over to collect it at eight o’clock tomorrow morning!”

A more than middle-aged woman dressed rather shabbily with greyish hair and thick-lensed glasses arrived at Mr. Kapikian’s the next morning punctually. “Have you got the parcel for me sir?” she asked briefly, not pulling off her thick woollen gloves. The Armenian nodded and indicated the parcel resting against the wall. She looked at it and pulled out a coarse sack, some string and a pair of scissors from inside a plastic shopping bag. She then proceeded to put the parcel in the sack and tied it up so that it was easy to transport. When she had finished she made her way to the front door, “Good day to you sir,” she said and left the premises.

As soon as she reached the first turning on the right she proceeded along it until she came to a taxi rank and got into the first car. “Kensington High Street please,” she said. As soon as she arrived she got out of the taxi and walked off. When she was sure the taxi had departed, she got into yet another taxi which took her to Lady Sylvia’s mansion. Here Alex, still disguised as the middle-aged lady, took The River Mist up to his laboratory and wiped off any possible fingerprints as it was imperative that the police couldn’t trace him, the contract burglar or Alecko Kapikian to the theft.

Once again dressed as the shabby woman, Alex drove his car to a street near a Catholic church on the outskirts of London taking with him the painting in its brand new wrappings.

There were a couple of women in the pews praying and Alex could see a rather young Irish-looking priest talking to a man about the electric lights. Alex made his way towards the empty confessional box, the painting under his arm, and tried to look as though he wished to confess himself. When the priest noticed him, he came over, entered the confessional box and awaited the penitent. Alex began to speak.

“Father Dominic, I have a stolen painting with me. I didn’t steal it – but could you please see to it that the picture is returned to its rightful owner, Sir Mark Gilsen, as I can’t take it to him myself. You can inform the police if you like. I’ll leave it here in the confessional with a hundred pound note for the poor!”

The startled priest had hardly had time to come out of the confessional when Alex was already scuttling away out of the church. He picked up the painting with the hundred pound note tucked under the string around it and chuckled to himself. “The cheek of him! Anyway, he’s left a nice little sum for my homeless worshippers!”

Sir Mark Gilsen consulted his friend Lady Sylvia, who advised him to hold the press conference in the Charlton Hotel in Chelsea.

The television networks had just begun to squeeze all they could out of the story and everybody was looking forward to knowing more about the unexpected recovery of the picture.

Pundits were anticipating a huge turn-out at the forthcoming auction which would guarantee raising even more money for The Children’s Hospital.

Under the vigilant eye of a specialised team of the Metropolitan Police the painting itself was on show in the conference room to ensure maximum coverage of the event. The Police Commissioner Philip Teely was happy to say that they clearly deserved all the merit for the recovery, as they had been closing in on the culprit forcing him to take the picture back rather than being arrested.

Professor Morris Turnhill, who was the head of the psychiatric unit of Barton Prison, was asked if he had any idea who the criminal was or if a profiling had already been made of the golden-hearted burglar. He replied that it could indeed have been a woman as the picture wasn’t very heavy to carry about and could represent the misty part of her intimate life.

The last word went to Father Dominic who was asked about how he had found The River Mist in his confessional.

“Well,” the likeable priest started to explain in his thick Irish brogue, “I can’t tell you anything other than the fact that true repentance is something that occurs also to criminals and that we all need to be forgiven for something. Personally I think it was a sign from heaven, God touched the heart of this criminal and a miracle resulted and I rejoice in it!”

Seated in the last row of the conference room, Mr. Alecko Kapikian pulled an envelope out from his pocket to have another look at what he had received that morning: a sheet of paper with an A in wax printed on it with the words “Semper victor” and a blank visiting card saying simply “Welcome to the brotherhood.” The Arranger had won again!

THE END
 



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ELENCO ALFABETICO DELLE PAROLE DI QUESTO TESTO


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