Mystery Suspense Crime


It couldn’t be called a museum, and strictly speaking, it wasn’t even a small gallery. It consisted of 19 paintings from XVI, XVII, and XVIII centuries. All the paintings were hanging on the walls of the small square room. On a worm-eaten wooden shelf, there were, exhibited all together, an Etruscan amphora, the BIG FOOT of a marble statue, which was presented as the foot of a statue of Nero, the head of a mummy, stolen from an Egyptian pyramid, and the stone statuette of a MAMMOTH, which indeed looked more like a wild boar than a mammoth.

It was where it was settled that made that little picture gallery special. It was in fact placed at the top of an old tower made of stone, which was all that remained of an ancient fortification, there were those who said of a medieval castle. Since the small gallery , at the top of the tower, had been opened to visitors, HORACE had been the only keeper, if necessary also a guide and a handyman there, in the small place. When Horace had reached the retirement age, he insisted on remaining and kept being the keeper of “HIS” picture gallery.

Even when, with regular public competition, the new keeper was hired, he, Horace, insisted on staying .  The new caretaker ( keeper) was a young man who had not only graduated but who could even boast masters in art history, classical literature, Etruscology, Egyptology, all titles and skills that he, the old caretaker ( keeper) certainly could not boast. Yet, despite the academic qualifications of the young man designated to succeed him, the old Horace was not at all discouraged. He insisted on staying ( remaining) to take care of the gallery at the top of the tower. Horace claimed that he would be necessary as a tutor to the new caretaker who, despite his numerous academic qualifications, had no experience. He insisted so much both with the mayor and with the councilors of whom he was friend and associate, but also with the voluntary association , of which he was a member for long , that he ( Horace) could remain as keeper of the small gallery at the top of the tower. He would join Frank, the new young caretaker, and ( would) replace him when he had to go away.

The small gallery was accessed by climbing ( going up) a long and winding staircase with steps of worn stone, of more than one hundred meters, and yet it had no lack of visitors. They  were mainly tourists, but also the inhabitants of the town willingly came to visit it, above all on holidays. Some days of the year, such as in the week between Christmas and New Year, Easter, and mid-August, when there was always a crowd of visitors eager to visit it, the gallery was ( kept) open even at night. And from the two small windows, or rather slits, at the top of the tower, the visitors lined up to look at the sky, above all when there was the moon in the sky, even if only  (just) a thin crescent moon ( a thin sickle of the moon).  If the small gallery at the top of the tower continued to see a notable rush of visitors, the relationship between the old and the new keeper had been anything but good from the beginning. Frank missed no opportunity to show off his culture to those who visited the gallery, while Horace, for his part, was always ready to intervene promptly when the visitors had curiosities and asked about the gallery. He, Horace was able to satisfy all visitors’ curiosity about the gallery, having passed a life there. Had Princess M. really come to visit the gallery one day in May 1974? And was it true that it had been a rainy and windy day and the Princess’s hat had blown off, carried by the wind? Had really Vladimir R., the famous Russian chess champion, come to visit the gallery? Horace was not only able to satisfy such curiosities of the visitors, but also to tell anecdotes and stories about the gallery. If that Deposition was really of Caravaggio? But sure that it was made by Caravaggio.  Even a very distinguished Art historian of Vienna, whose name Horace could not remember, had recognized that painting as by Caravaggio. Ah, when, decades before, that Deposition had disappeared from the gallery, rumors had circulated claiming that the Caravaggio’s painting had been stolen…Oh, but not only. He, Horace had been suspected of the theft. But that painting of Caravaggio had disappeared not because it had been stolen, but because it had been sent to restore.

Frank was always ready ( quick) to point out to Horace that, on, climbing all those steps every day was too tiring for a man of …his age, who should instead walk on the plain, oh yes, he had to go for a walk in the public gardens, instead of doing that effort to climb up there every day. Not to mention that also the descent of those steep and winding stairs was risky to a man of advanced age as he was. The young keeper was always there, ready to point his finger at Horace’s forgetfulness, carelessness, and inaccuracies. Frank’s impatience with the presence of the old caretaker, who insisted on not leaving the place ( the job) that was no longer his , was so evident that even the visitors to the gallery had noticed (it). Oh, so much they had noticed the impatience, the annoyance of the new keeper against Horace, that they had started to say: “You will see, sooner or later the new keeper will throw Horace down from the tower” They talked about it with great nonchalance, as an event on which they would bet that it was going to happen. There were also people who said : “ Oh, it’s easier if he makes Horace fall down the stairs”

 Then suddenly something happened, completely unexpected. The statuette that was intended to represent a mammoth, even if it rather suggested  a wild boar disappeared from the shelf in the gallery without no one could realize how it had been possible. It was Horace who first noticed the lack ( the missing)of that artifact of uncertain origin and also uncertain dating. _____There were those who claimed it was an Etruscan sculpture of the third century BC, others who instead believed it came from Crete and that the animal represented was not a mammoth but the Minotaur , and ( there were ) also those who claimed that it had been found during excavations in the Middle East in the eighteenth century so that it probably was an Indian artifact. However, the almost enigmatic statuette kept intriguing the visitors of the gallery very much, also because of its completely uncertain, undecidable provenience.

The old caretaker ( keeper) , who persisted in staying at that place, when it no longer was his place ( job), from which not only the new legitimate assignee of the job would have gladly kicked him out ( away), but even not a few people in the town would have liked to kick him out of the gallery, noticed the disappearance of that statuette on a Saturday, shortly after noon, when a large group of very enthusiastic and even chattering visitors had just left the gallery.

On the shelf, there, between the Etruscan amphora and Nero’s foot, where the statuette, almost small, tall about thirty centimeters, should have been ( had always been) now there was a void ( an empty space) which to him, Horace, seemed a hole. Horace was alone there in the gallery, since Frank had gone out ( down) to meet the mayor.

Horace stayed staring at that void ( empty space) in the shelf, dismayed, unbewildering. How could that statuette have disappeared? The glass wall protecting the exhibits on the shelf was locked as always, it had not been opened forcing the lock. The key to opening it was always in its place, in the top drawer of the desk.  How the hell then could the statuette have

 been taken away? By whom? Who knows if, as he stood staring at that empty space, at

 that hole, in the shelf, Horace thought that it was precisely he who would be accused of having made the mysterious statuette disappear. In fact, it was exactly what happened. Everyone was convinced that to steal the statuette__ representing it had never been known whether a wild boar or a mammoth, but perhaps the Minotaur ___only he, Horace could have been. In vain the old keeper protested that he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the statuette. Horace asked, indeed implored to be searched. The statuette was not found either in his house in the city or in that in the mountains. But however, everyone kept thinking that he had stolen it, and that, after having stolen it, he could have hidden the statuette in a secret place, or ( could) have sold it to some collector, or he could even have destroyed it. Horace, accused to have caused serious damage to the historical and artistic heritage of his town, managed to avoid ending up in jail, and he was sentenced only to monetary compensation. He had to sell the house where he lived and also that of the holidays, to be able to pay for it. He had even to leave the gallery at the top of the tower and not only as a keeper. He was made to understand clearly that he should not have put a foot in the gallery even as a visitor. Horace left the town and no one knew anything about him for years.

Frank took full possession of the post as the actual keeper of the gallery ( at the top of the tower), which continued to have a lot of visitors.

The mysterious statuette had never been found. A few years after the disappearance of the statuette also Frank disappeared. Since he was well known and loved not only in his town, his disappearance shocked everyone. Nobody could think that Frank had decided of his own

 free will to disappear ( to go away), and everyone feared that something bad had happened to him.  He was searched everywhere for weeks. But not even he was found, just like the statuette that had disappeared years before.

Then one morning there was the chilling surprise. Frank was found dead at the foot of the tower. He had jumped off the top of the tower.

The statuette, perhaps representing a wild boar, perhaps a mammoth, perhaps the Minotaur, was back in its place on the shelf.

October 07, 2022 23:27

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