Contest #242 shortlist ⭐️

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Crime Fiction

“I don’t get art,” says Katrina. “Why pay so much for something that looks like a kindergartner made it?” She is staring at a beautifully chaotic painting stationed in the foyer. 

“That’s a Molinkska original”, replies Jake, approaching from behind. “It also happens to be my personal favorite.”

“Well, to each his own.” Her roving eye gave it one last look before moving on to the next painting hanging in the bright foyer. “It’s just not my cup of tea. I much prefer something more traditional, like a landscape or portrait.”

Jake sidesteps to look at Katrina head-on. She is a gorgeous specimen with modelesque features. Slender and athletically built, with shoulder-length brown hair blown out into loose spirals, she dresses conservatively yet still manages to look chic. It is clear she is well-bred and educated, although her ‘opinions’ were the opinions of others that she regurgitates to sound intelligent. There is no denying her beauty, but like all the others before her, he predicts she will only last a season before he bores of her. 

“We have plenty of those lining the corridors and the grand staircase. What I like about abstracts is that they have a definitive effect on the viewer. You either love it or hate it.”

“You can say that again”, she quips with a comical lift of her eyebrows. “Who is the artist? Molinkska?” She pauses, thinking but seemingly unable to place the name. “I suppose he must be well-known if it’s hanging here.” 

“He is now.” Jake pauses to reflect, a small smile forming. “Albert Molinkska was just a small-time artist who my father met working as a custodian in one of his businesses. They developed a bit of a rapport and, in the spirit of charity, my dad commissioned him to do a few paintings. But, low and behold, the guy had extraordinary talent.” He takes a step closer, gazing into the vortex of swirling blues in the center of the painting that always had a way of drawing him in. “He made thirty-three paintings for my father, who gifted a couple to one of his best clients. That client was an art dealer, and the rest was history.” 

“That’s a very serendipitous story. He must be grateful to your father for that contact.”

“Actually it didn’t turn out as well for poor Albert. He died unexpectedly after finishing this last piece. Unfortunately for him it was only after his death that the world was introduced to his work, and the paintings became priceless.”

“That’s a shame,” although her tone rings only with the false pity of a newscaster, reporting sad news before moving on to the next story. She turns once again back to the priceless original. “Where are the others? You said there were thirty-three.”

“Sold at auction. Ranging between one and three million a piece.” His eyes twinkled as he watched her expression. It was his favorite part about telling the tale to each and every acquisition he brought home. She turns to face him, astounded although not appalled. “My dad had done well for himself before, but the small investment he made in the janitor, made him a multimillionaire.”

With an expression of amazement and awe, she smiles at him as she links her arm around his. “Now that I know your family’s interesting backstory, show me the rest of this lovely home.”

******

The smug idiot shows her around the entire place, which could only be described as a mansion. After a lot of name-dropping and mentioning of social events that were approaching, they sat down to lunch. It wasn’t a standard home-cooked meal. Made by a world-renowned chef, and presented by the butler, it consisted of three courses and fine wine.

She ‘oo’-s and ‘ahh’-s at all the precise moments but she is no fool. She’s taking in every detail of the entry points and the security cameras, or rather, lack thereof. The windows, balconies, sliding doors and their latches. She is calculating everything. 

People like Jake What’s-His-Fucking-Last-Name Junior inspire her to commit these felonious endeavors guilt-free. She had performed this beautiful-female-attracted-to-the-rich-fellow trope nearly a dozen times already. It never fails. These men have a very predictable Achilles’ heel: carelessness. They love to acquire their ‘one-of-a-kind’ piece of art, but don’t install an artwork security sensor, relying only on the standard security system of the residence. 

Katrina had studied Molinkska’s work for years. She knew every brushstroke, every striation on the canvas. It was through her strenuous, painstaking study and practice that she has been able to make thoroughly impressive imitations. And who’s to say the replaced paintings aren’t real? Only the nation’s leading expert in all things Molinkska– her.  Besides, the imitations have certainly fooled the moronic parade of wealthy braggarts for whom she had been robbing for years without notice. 

Burglarizing from some rich imbecile was definitely easier than taking on a museum heist. In fact, now that they had the hang of it, it was quite simple. Once they have gained entry, usually while said buffoon is enjoying himself at a fill-in-the-blank swanky event, all they have to do is snatch the painting right off the wall and replace it with her grade A imitation. In the end, no one gets hurt. 

It really is a genius operation. She can’t take all the credit though. Her partner in crime and twin brother, Julius, contributes his tech skills, strategic thinking, and the ability to don a good disguise. The two of them had gotten through several tricky scenarios.  

After her day spent with Jerkhead Jake, she sits at her kitchen table across from Julius as they strategize their next move. 

“He kept going on and on about some ridiculous charity event next week”, she says in between bites of her sandwich. She had eaten like a bird at lunch to perpetuate the illusion of reticence. “Some kind of Schmuck’s Soiree. ”

“Gentlemen’s Gala”, Julius replies with a smirk. “Yeah, I thought he might be attending that.” Having been the plus-one at way too many of these festivities, Katrina was well aware that indeed nothing charitable goes on at these events. The attendees might be dressed to the nines and paying a hefty ‘donation’ to attend, but ninety percent of the money pays for the venue, food, booze, and other expenses. Not to mention whoever is hosting is doubtless padding their own pockets as well. 

“The whole family will still be out of town too. It’s the perfect opportunity to hit it.”

“I agree. Now talk to me about what you saw. What are the vulnerabilities?”

Katrina grins with a mouth full of ham and cheese. “Almost too many to innumerate. They should just start handing these things over to us.” She details the location of the painting, points of entry, security system, and all other pertinent information to Julius. 

******

Over the course of the next week Julius irons out all the details with assistance from Katrina, extracting any necessary but inconspicuous information from Jake. He also cases the residence and learns the comings and goings of all the house staff. By the evening of the Bastards’ Ball, everything is planned down to a T. 

Jake Jerkoff Jr. picks Katrina up in a limousine. She’s wearing a sexy, but not too revealing, floor-length black number. Her hair is in a flattering updo that accentuates her elegant neck and she has accessorized with modest but quality jewelry. She knows what she is doing in this regard and she is stunning. Jake, to his credit, looks great in his tuxedo, but who doesn’t? 

It’s business as usual for Katrina. While she emanates composure and confidence, she also flashes subtle hints of enthrallment. She wants Jake to think she is enamored by this world, even though it couldn’t be farther from the truth. He is eating up her performance. Actually, he is having a good time showing her off. He can tell she is less indifferent and aloof than the usual girls he totes around to these events. She is a good conversationalist and he’s starting to think his initial impression may have been misguided. 

Meanwhile, Julius has been in position at the residence, patiently waiting for the last member of the staff to leave. Uncharacteristically, the butler has been taking an exorbitant amount of time clearing out this evening. Had it been any other member of the staff, Julius might have been able to fool them into allowing him entry. But the butler, head honcho of the staff and hired help, would watch him like a hawk, that is, if he would even deign to let him in. 

Relaying his dismay to Kat, and entreating her to prolong the evening for as long as possible, there was nothing he could do but sit and wait. 

Kat was doing everything in her power to extend their stay, conversing with the bigwigs, dancing the night away, and even insisting that they participate and wait for the results of the silent auction. Having done everything possible, they were amongst the last to leave. She spends more time with Jake than she has planned, but she begrudgingly has to admit, he wasn’t as awful as she had made him out to be. 

It was obvious to Jake that she didn't want this night to end and he obliged her. As they wait for the limo to whisk them back to his place for a nightcap, he leans in and kisses her. Noticing the telltale glint in his eye, she was expecting it, yet she is taken aback by the fluttering in her chest and the warmth spreading down to her toes. She leans into his kiss and for the first time that evening, is not acting.  

Back at the house Julius is in full-on panic mode. Not only is Kat and Jake on their way, it looks like the butler has no intention of leaving any time soon. Indeed, he might be waiting up to attend to the two of them. He takes a deep breath and sends Kat their code phrase that they have never had to use before: GOOD NIGHT

******

Kat sits staring at her phone for a moment. She blinks and reads the message again. 

As they pull up the semi-circular drive in front of the estate, they are greeted by the hospitable butler. Task one will be to immediately and swiftly get rid of him.

With some subtle coaching from Kat about releasing poor Wilfredo of his duties, the champagne is served and the butler discharged. With a sigh of relief, she mentally commences the second task, getting ahold of his glass. It won’t be easy. Jake, the perfect gentleman, will not allow her to refill their glasses. She finally settles for covertly compromising the remaining half of the champagne bottle. She can’t help but feel a pang of guilt for what she has done. 

It takes a little longer than anticipated, but eventually Jake’s eyes begin to droop. He apologizes, embarrassed by his own sudden drowsiness. She smiles coyly and suggests they get a bit more comfortable. 

She deposits him on a chaise in the sitting room and within minutes he is snoring. As she swings open the french doors to the back patio, she comes face to face with her brother. “Hurry,” she says, grim-faced. “He didn’t take a full dose. We don’t have much time.” With a curt nod he’s on his way through the house to the foyer. 

While he sets to work dismantling the canvas from its frame, Kat is keeping watch over the sleeping Jake. What should be a simple and straightforward task is taking Julius more time than it should. She gives a final nervous look at Jake before racing down the hall to the foyer. “What in the fuckery is taking so long?”, she hisses. 

“Kat, you need to see this.” His face is somber. Without another word he holds up the canvas in gloved hands and turns it over. A handwritten inscription reads: 

Jacob, my muse, my love–

You have made life worth living. Thank you for filling my last days with eternal wonder. I dream of the day when we will be reunited.

See you where the clouds meet the sky,

Albert 

Kat reads the inscription, once, twice, three times before making eye contact with her twin. He doesn’t need to say anything for her to know that he is waiting on her decision. What should they do?

Her head is reeling. Of all the priceless artworks they had stolen, none had been inscribed. This painting was dedicated to Jacob Sr., inarguably it belongs here with him. She bites her lower lip as she ponders the next course of action.  

A minute passes. Then two. Julius’ eyes do not leave her face. 

“Put it back”, she says with finality. Number thirty-three is not theirs.

Julius works quickly to reattach the canvas to the frame as Kat retreats in the direction of the back patio. It is finished and she is exhausted. She gives one final look at Jake’s form, still reposed in the sitting room. Leaving the final piece of the puzzle behind them, her brother follows her out into the night. 

Now she understands. She may have written the book on the artist Albert Molinkska, but she will never truly know who her father was. 

March 22, 2024 18:45

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7 comments

S. E. Foley
00:42 Apr 05, 2024

Although I'm not a twin, I love stories about them. This was a great setup and a great response to the prompt. Well deserved to be uplifted like it was.

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Story Time
05:35 Apr 03, 2024

I thought this particular prompt would be really difficult to pull off in a short space, but I thought you did a commendable job. It was a fast-paced and engaging read.

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Philip Ebuluofor
04:04 Apr 03, 2024

Congrats.

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Stevie Burges
07:09 Apr 01, 2024

Excellent story which kept my interest from beginning to end. Well done.

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John Rutherford
11:52 Mar 30, 2024

Congrats

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Annie Hewitt
18:36 Mar 29, 2024

This is a great story. Very much deserved win on the shortlist. Great writing

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Mary Bendickson
16:56 Mar 29, 2024

Congrats on shortlist.🥳 Will return to read later. Whoa. Unexpected pected twist at end. Great job.

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