Chasing the Truth

Submitted into Contest #185 in response to: Set all or part of your story in a jam-packed storage unit.... view prompt

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Mystery

“I know that it’s in here somewhere.” I pulled another box from the stack. Greg stood just outside the door, keeping lookout. 

              “If you don’t hurry up, someone’s going to catch us. I could lose my job for this, man.”

              I let out a laugh. “Your job? If we get caught, it won’t be Mr. Kilpatrick this late. It will be someone else looking for the same thing I am. Just keep your eyes peeled!” It hadn’t taken much to become friends with Greg. A six-pack here, a fresh vape there. He was practically begging to help me by the time I filled him in on what I needed him to do.

              I tore through the contents of the box I was working through. Just more files. The whole storage unit was nothing but boxes of files from floor to ceiling. My intel told me this had to be the place, but I felt like I was wasting my time. I threw the box against the back wall. It had been three hours already, and I felt that I was no closer to the painting than I had been two years ago, when I found that damned note.

                             Cut the lining, find the lost king.

I took it as a joke, until the mystery wore me down and I was forced to investigate the origin of the note. The paper was older than the book I had found it in. It was signed The Baron de Vorges¸ which was the pen name of a notorious thief from the seventeenth century. His real name, Elias Ainsley, took a bit of investigating, but I finally found an article in La Gazette, just a footnote in the midst of the French revolution. 

It took the better part of another year to find that he was hired to transport one “Eustache Dauger” to a prison, not letting anyone else know who he transported underneath his iron mask. I had already run across so many dead ends and roadblocks, and I suspected that I had gained at least a few enemies along the way. This would potentially get me killed, but I had to find the truth.

“Mr. Donovan, have you found anything yet? I really think we need to get out of here. The night security guard will be making his rounds pretty soon.” Greg kept his back to the storage unit, looking back and forth down the hallway.

“Just make sure that he doesn’t get the jump on us if he shows up. I am going to find this damned painting.” I opened another box and groaned. Just more files. “You said this was Gastone’s unit, right? You are sure this was the one?”

Greg picked at his ear with his little finger and examined his findings. It looked like he was having better luck finding what he was searching for than I was.

“GREG! You gotta focus, man. Is this the Gastone unit, or not?”

“Yes! It’s the right one. I triple checked. Maybe he had another place where he kept the secret history-changing paintings.”

History changing? I only told him it was valuable. I barely even mentioned it was a painting before we got here.  I pulled a file out of the box in front of me and opened it. Why hadn’t I bothered to look at any of the paperwork before now? This box was full of records detailing clothing sales for a local boutique. I glanced back up at Greg, who must have been staring over his shoulder at me, but looked back down the hallway when I looked at him. You sly little shit.

“So, Mr. Donovan, do you have a plan for the painting if you find it?” I’m sure you would love to know what my plan for the painting is. “Already have a buyer? I bet a lot of people would love to get their hands on something like that.”

“Yeah, actually. There is a sweet old man I know that loves collecting stolen artwork. Hey, Greg, can you give me a hand with these boxes? I think the painting has to be behind this stack.”

Greg looked down the hallway, then looked back at me. “Uhh.. Mr. Donovan, what if the night security guard comes? We need to keep our eyes open.” He looked at his watch and then back toward the door at the end of the hallway.

“I think we should be alright. I just need you to help me with this stack here. Be quick, and we can wrap this whole thing up and we won’t have to worry about the security guard.” Greg hesitated, looked back to his watch. “What time should he be here anyway?” Is it the guard he is waiting for, or does he have something else waiting for me?

“We should have about ten minutes.” Out of excuses, he took one last look up the hallway and then stepped over the shorter stacks of boxes to meet me in the back. I pointed at one of the boxes that I hadn’t moved yet. “Let’s get this over with, I guess.”

Greg reached up for the box at the top, but it was just a bit too high for him. “Greg, what did you say your last name was again?”

He froze. “I didn’t. But it’s Wilhelm.” He lowered his arms as I pulled my pistol out of my pocket and pushed it into his spine.

“That’s funny. Wilhelm happens to be a surname of the ancestors of Medici, just like Gastone. I’m guessing you knew that, though. Tell me, Greg, was Eustache Dauger the rightful heir to the throne of France? Did your ancestors lock him up to keep the throne? Why did they keep him in an iron mask?”

Greg turned around, keeping his hands up. “All I can tell you is that if you don’t let this go, you won’t live to regret it. This is bigger than you could imagine.” He was shaking so much that it made his teeth chatter. I took a step back, keeping the barrel of the gun pointed at his chest.

“So if I am here in another five minutes, is it the security guard coming through that door? Or am I going to meet Mr. Gastone? Someone else who is willing to kill me to keep this secret?” I looked toward the door, then back at Greg.

“Just give it up. You will never find the painting. If you run away now, you may be able to wake up tomorrow.” His lip curled up at the corner, and he took a quick peek at his watch.

I pulled my gun back and hit him on the temple, then pulled the boxes onto him. “Sorry, Greg. If I don’t have this, I don’t have a reason to wake up anymore.” I climbed back toward the door and hit the light switch, then pulled the string that let the door down. I pulled the lock from my pocket and placed it on the door latch.

I guess this was a dead-end after all. I went down the hall and hid in the utility closet by the main door. I could hear the door open, and at least three voices when they realized the unit was locked up. I waited another hour after I heard them leave, then made my way out of the building. I walked down the sidewalk, trying to stay out of the glow of the streetlights until I made my way back to my apartment. Tomorrow, I would start looking for a new lead.

February 17, 2023 22:52

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