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Case of the Duplicitous Pallete

A short story by Ernie Whitenack

Scott Wadsworth, a Boston Attorney and Special Investigator for the State Attorney, is again pulled into international intrigue by the murder of Patricia Curry. Miss Curry unknowingly sells near-perfect copies of paintings stolen from the Duke Charles Museum at Oxford University.

The only clues to her killer are a money clip engraved with ancient Hieroglyphics and full of US Dollars and Deutschmarks, a boarding pass stub, and a heavily worn ring sporting what looks like the head of a Ram or Goat.

Soon Scott Wadsworth is contacted by Interpol and Agent C33 of the DOJ’s secret investigative unit. Together they unearth a surprising international gang, a relic of Germany’s darker days.....

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Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club - Fall River Chapter

The Fall River Chapter of the Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club of Boston was established on February 19th, 2018 during the International Pipe Smoking Day celebration. This is the first chapter club of SHPC Boston.

The Fall River Chapter of the Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club of Boston Meets on the Third Thursday of the Month at theOld Firehouse Smoke Shop in Fall River.

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Case of the Duplicitous Palette - 5

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Chapter Five

Case of the Duplicitous Palette

Previously:

“Cousins has the undercover assignment selling art copies for the Cezanne Society International. Harry went to his supervisor, Frank Cassidy, with the undercover idea and the FBI obviously went to the DOJ for help.”

“The other news is encouraging too. A group in DC has taken on finding the destination of forwarded mail and phone calls to the Cezanne Society International. Harry told me only the FBI Director knows the group’s name and affiliation.”

“So, we go from bleak to encouraging in a five minutes span,” Matt said. “Stick close to Harry. Not that he isn’t capable, but your council has the effect of getting him off dead center faster than he might typically move.”

“You go ahead, Allan. I’ll walk home. I have a lot to think about, and the fresh air helps.”

“OK, Boss,” Allan said as he popped from a chair in the corner, pretending not to pay attention and to be startled when called.

For the next eight working days, Harry Malison called Scott by nine-thirty AM, informing him that he’s had no news from DC.

“Harry, not that I don’t enjoy our morning chats, But wouldn’t it be better if you call only when you do have something from DC. Then you won’t be spending unproductive time on the phone with me.

“I didn’t want you to get anxious waiting to hear from me about Cassidy or the actual Cezanne Society address,” Harry replied.

“And I appreciate it, Harry, but the need isn’t there. I have so many things occupying my mind that there is no room for anxiety. If that changes, I’ll be sure to call,” Scott said as gently as he could.

Later, as Scott and Mark Simmons are going over reports from Detectives Lloyd Qualter and  Al Guatino, Matt knocks once and walks into Scott’s office.

“Mark, Allan, excuse us, please. I have some private business with Scott.”

“What’s so private that Simmons can’t hear it?” Scott asks after Simmons leaves the room.

“It’s promotion time, Scott, and I’ve been asked for evaluations. That’s what.”

“So you want me to do the evaluations for my men. Is that it?”

“Please, the deadline is passed, but I have four days grace,” Matt replied.

It was late afternoon before Scott and Simmons finished with the long-neglected reports from Qualter and Guatino.

“Allan, let’s swing by the office and see what surprises Annie has for us. If things get busier at the statehouse, I might have to use you to do clerical work.”

“Fine with me, Boss. This job does get a little boring at times, not to say I don’t like my job. You tell me what you want to be done, and I’ll do my best.”

Scott and Allan step from the elevator, noticing and commenting on the corridor being darker than usual.

Nearing the office door, a voice, not much louder than a whisper, says, “Hold it right there, you two. Is anyone in your office, Wadsworth?”

Stopping in his tracks, Scott replies, “My secretary and maybe my top attorney.”

“Go in and get rid of him,” the voice demands as Allan slowly moves his hand towards his revolver.

After Scott explained the situation, Adam didn’t waste a second getting out of the office and into the elevator, and Scott returned to the corridor.

“Ok, inside with you, and I want to see everyone with their hands flat on the desk and your eyes closed,” the voice demanded.

“I’m sorry I had to do this to you, good folks, but I can’t be seen with any of you while I’m on this case.”

Scott, Allan, and Annie looked up to see Agent Jack Cousins smiling at them and looking like a cab driver from a movie.

“Jack, you almost got yourself shot! What a stupid thing to do!” Allan shouted.

“Allan, our friend Jack must have reasons for his actions. I don’t recall anything he ever did that wasn’t necessary.”

“Now, Jack, sit down and tell us why in hell frightening us like that was necessary. And yes, Allan, not knowing who was menacing us, would have dropped you in that darkened hallway and carry the regret the rest of his life.”

“It was a necessary calculated risk,” Cousins replied. I needed to talk to you, Scott, and it can’t be known that I made contact with you. I trust Allan and Annie, but no one else that might have been here. We have to make it fast. I’m sure that guy that ran out of here called the cops as soon as he found a telephone. I’m going undercover in the Cezanne Society International case. Take this envelope and lock it in your safe. It contains contact information if you need me or something happens to me. It’s great to see you all again. And, again, I’m sorry I had to do it this way, and I have to leave so soon. Annie, give my best to Mic.”

Annie had just locked the safe and was about to call Building Maintenance regarding the hall lighting when the police opened the door, one on either side with weapons drawn.

Scott approached the cops smiling, “I’m sorry, officers, I suppose Adam called you. We were never in any danger. It was a joke by an old friend and associate.”

“Well, now, Is it the truth you’re tellin’ us?” The older officer asks as he holsters his revolver, and a tall man in a gray suit enters.”

“Mister Wadsworth doesn’t lie, Officer. I’ll personally vouch for that and handle the report on this call,” Brad Goodale said as he signaled the officers to leave. “It’s been a while, Councilor. How are you?”

“Brad Goodale, isn’t it, and I see no longer a beat cop? Come into my office, Brad. I’m glad you showed up,” Scott said.

Then Scott turned to Annie, saying, “Before they leave, make the boys in blue some coffee. Make plenty because you’ll find several more lurking in the hallway.”

“Settling into Scott’s office, Scott asked, “Brad, so how is it you’re in plain clothes?”

“Your and Harry Malison’s pressure and the shakeup in the department after Chief Cosmo Natali’s suicide brought my plight as an ill-treated officer to the right people’s attention. My sergeant’s rank and my back pay were restored, and an apology was given. After a couple of months of brushing up, I applied for Detective Division, was accepted, and was allowed to keep my rank. I’m enjoying a whole new life as the stigma surrounding me quickly disappears.”

“That’s great. I’m very happy for you. Quietly and discreetly, you were a big help to Malison and me during the Ryan problem. You certainly deserve reinstatement and whatever good things come your way. I hope we get an opportunity to work together someday.”

“Thanks, Councilor. I’d better get to my car. Someone is undoubtedly trying to get ahold of me. Call me If I can help with anything.”

Scott saw Goodale to the door, turned to Annie, and asked, “Any coffee left?”

“Yes, I’ll get your mug. And, Mister Wadsworth, I never want to start the day like this again. It’s only ten-thirty, and I feel as if I’ve been here all day.

The Canadian Border

In the early morning hours, a Land Rover from Montreal travels Southwest over logging roads and hunting trails and approaches the Canadian border near Norton, Vermont.

Garry Garr and Russell Chadwick sit huddled up to a fieldstone fireplace in a cabin outside Norton, cursing the cold night while waiting to receive delivery of a crate full of paintings.

“I’ll be damned to hell if I’ll do this again. The pay ain’t worth the bastardly long drive and freezing my ass off in this out-house of a cabin,” Chadwick complains.

“You do have a knack for vocabulary, don’t you, Russ? We’ve only been here for a couple of hours. We’ll be gone soon and stop in Manchester in time for breakfast. Where else will you get two thousand bucks and expenses for working a day and a half?” Garr responded.

The Land Rover emerges from the woods into a small meadow and stops. The driver gets out and turns on a spotlight plugged into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter socket. Scanning the edge of the wood encircling the meadow, he sees the yellow tree trunk indicating the way to the cabin. An opening in the trees barely allows the Land Rover through, but the trail opens up, and soon, the driver smells smoke from a wood fire.

“What are you guys complaining about?” The driver asks. “I’ve driven sixty miles on narrow rutted roads and trails, avoiding US border patrols. You are still in your own country and all snug by a fireplace. I have to make that trip again going back. I’ll see you sometime, maybe.”

Garr checks that the door is entirely closed and turns to Chadwick. “Man, you have to learn to keep your mouth shut. You don’t know who that guy is or how high he is in the organization. You just can’t antagonize these people and live very long. Now, let’s extinguish the fire, get this crate in the van, and deliver it to Cambridge.”

That same afternoon as Scott is closing his office, Buck Qualter walks through the door very excited.

“Boss, I’m driving here to deliver these evaluation forms for Matt, and the news comes on the radio. There has been an accident on Route Three just north of Chelmsford. One person was killed and another badly injured. The responding state police discovered a crate containing six paintings. They said the label is in French, so I figure it has something to do with the illegal copies you’re working on.”

“Did they give their names or a hospital on the broadcast?” Scott immediately asked.

“Not that I heard, Boss. Maybe Matt or state police headquarters has that information. The cops on the scene most likely came from the Concord or Leominster barracks.”

“Buck, I’m going to call Matt. You get onto line two, call headquarters, and find where that crate is held. Be sure to tell them you’re from the State Attorney’s office.”

“You got me going out the door, Scott. Did Qualter get the promotion forms to you?” Matt asked.

“Yes, and news of an accident in Chelmsford where six paintings in a French labeled crate were found. What do you know of that?”

“It’s news to me, Scott,” Matt replied. “If Qualter is still with you, I want the two of you to follow up on this and get what information you can. I’m on my way to a cocktail meeting with the Lieutenant Governor. He likes informal meetings, especially when he has bad news to communicate.”

“Nothing from headquarters, Boss. They said they knew of the accident, but it was too soon for reports to reach them. I’ll try both barracks next. Someone must have some information,” Qualter told Scott.

Scott sat thinking about Jack Cousins and if those paintings from the accident were slated for him. Then Scott realized it was much too early for that and that he was simply worried about Cousins going undercover in a gang who would murder on a whim.

“I’ve got good and bad news, Boss. First, I found where the paintings are and the names of the guys in the van. Unfortunately, the one who survived the accident lived only minutes at Chelmsford General. Here are the names of the deceased and where the paintings are stored,” Qualter said, handing Scott a sheet of paper.

            Quick work, Buck, Thanks. Tomorrow you and Guatino can start running a make on the accident victims. I want their life stories. Perhaps we, or the FBI, can tie them to some known organization. I’m going to try to take possession of the paintings for Interpol.

“Allan, let’s go. I have to see Judge Millstone. I hope he will see me without an appointment,” Scott said as he grabbed his coat from the coat tree in his office.

“It will be a few minutes. At the moment, the judge is going over an affidavit,” the secretary said.

“Scott, Allan, how have you been? It’s good to see your shining faces again,” Millstone said as they all shook hands,

Fine, thank you, Judge,” Scott replied before telling him a synopsis of the painting theft, the copies, and the murder.

“An auto accident resulted in the recovery of some of the copies. They are being held at the State Police Barracks in Leominster. It’s imperative to all concerned, including Interpol, that the State Attorney’s office takes possession of those painting copies. To simplify the matter, I would like a court order transferring the painting to me as a State Attorney’s Office member. It can save weeks of arguing with the Barracks Commander.”

“When do you plan to go to Leominster, Scott?”

“In a couple of days, Sir. I’m afraid the crate, or individual copies might be misplaced, seeing there is no one to claim them.”

“I understand what you’re saying. You get the most interesting and complicated cases, Scott. Keep me updated,” Millstone said with a half-smile and shaking his head. “The order will be waiting for you tomorrow at about three. Allan, you can pick it up then.”

“That was easy, Boss,” Allan said on the drive to the office.

“Judge Millstone trusts me. He once told me how impressed he was with my handling of the Riverville murder case and the ensuing clean-up of the Ellensvill and South Boston gangs.

“I guess it pays to be super proficient in your line of work, Boss,”

“In any line of work, Allan, from garbage collector to the presidency. It’s a lesson well learned.”

Annie was gone, and the doors locked when Scott returned to his office. He told Allan to take off, that he would walk home. Scott went through his message slips, decided none were urgent, and left the building.

Waiting to cross the street and enter the Boston Common, a cab pulled to the curb, and Jack Cousins leaned into the open passenger window.

“Taxi, Mister, Jack yelled.”

Scott approached and said, “Sure,” causing Jack to stretch back and open the rear door.

“I hear you recovered a crate of copies. Where are they now?” Cousins asked as he maneuvered the taxi to Commonwealth Avenue and turned West.

“At State Police Barracks in Leominster, but I should have them in days. Judge Millston is preparing a Court Order for them to be transferred to me.”

“Good, I’m anxious to see what I’ll be selling. I doubt the copying quality will make them easy to sell.”

“And how would you know about the quality, Jack?”

“Well, I suppose it had to come out. I have an art degree and a master’s in Art Criticism. I interned for two years in Germany at Kunsthaus Hamburg. I became somewhat of a specialist in comparative brush techniques.”

“You and Mic! You are full of surprises.  Mic had advanced commando military training at Sandhurst. Now you have an art education. What in the world are you doing in this business, Jack?”

“Adventure and money. It’s that simple. The truth be known, I hated those two years in Germany – could hardly stay awake.”

“We’ll make arrangements for you to see them as soon as I get them. I have yet to look at that paper Annie put in the safe. I assume there is a phone number on it for contacting you.”

“Yes. It’s a particular portable Radiophone that can’t be traced. However, we can always take a cab ride if you’d rather talk that way. Here is a business card.”

“OK, now, I’ll appreciate it if you take me home, and if you like, come in for a drink.”

“Better wait until this is over before we get social. From what I’ve learned, this bunch has no regard for life,” Cousins said as he crossed the Charles River and headed back to Boston.

That evening, Nancy told Scott, “Harry is getting quite jittery over the murdered girl and the lack of evidence. It might be a good idea to call him tomorrow. You always seem to have a calming effect on Harry.”

“I’ll do that; I have some good news for Harry anyway. He might be dancing a Jig after he hears what I have.”

The next day at the statehouse, Qualter and Al Guatino are digging into the backgrounds of Garry Garr and Russell Chadwick when Scott and Allan arrive.

We just got started, Boss,” Qualter immediately said. “So we have no answers to your questions. Try us in four hours.”

Scott knocked on Matt Hart’s door and walked in. “I thought you would want to know that I found the creat of paintings and have a court order coming today for me to take possession.”

“Judge Millstone again, Scott? I’m happy you know him, and he likes you. The court order is good thinking on your part. It allows us to bypass the Barracks commander and save time.”

Scott updated Matt on Garry Garr and Russell Chadwick. “I want the FBI to dig into those two as well. They can go deeper than we. Now I have to call Harry and cheer him up with the good news. I’ll be in my office. I have a job for Simmons.”

“Where are Qualter and Guatino, Mark? I left them here working.”

“They moved to the conference room carrying two phones. They said they needed more distance from each other. They were too close in this room, and their voices were distracting.”

“Good for them,” Scott responded. “Now. Simmons, I have a job for you that must be a secret. I want you to look into Metropolitain Taxi and Limousine without calling them directly. Find out who owns it and if the owner has any federal government connections. Don’t go too deeply. I don’t want to take a chance that they know what we are doing. After that, I have another assignment. And don’t worry about your regular work. I’ll get someone to help you when this is over.”

Harry Malison almost jumped for joy when Scott told him about the paintings and of looking into the backgrounds of Garry Garr and Russell Chadwick.

“We have two things on the burner, Harry. There’s permission to talk with Sabastian Kelly and Harold Gustafson and to check for the actual address and phone of the Cezanne Society International. What progress has been made by DC, or haven’t you heard from them?”

“Not a peep, Scott. It’s too early for that. And I’m not about to push Frank Cassidy .”

“I understand, Harry. I’m most interested in talking to Kelly and Gustafson. I have an instinctive feeling that one of them will have something we can use. If you don’t hear something from DC within a week, please bug your boss about it.”

“I’ll do that, Scott, and thanks for what your people are doing. I’ll see what the FBI can dig up if you don’t get enough on those two guys, and thanks for calling, Scott. I was getting uptight not hearing from anyone.”

Once off the phone, Scott starts looking for Allan. “Mark, where did Allan go. Do you know?”

“Yes, Sir. He’s on a coffee run at the boys’ request in the conference room. I asked him to bring some for us.”

“Oh, that’s fine. I wanted to remind Allan that he must go to Judge Millstone’s office for the court order this afternoon.”

“Allan mentioned that to me, so I doubt he forgot,” Simmons said.

“The ride to Leominster was miserable at seven A.M. due to the vast number of cars on the roads.

“With the industry build-up in this area since the war, I think we need some new multi-lane roads. I don’t see how people take this day after day,” Scott mentioned.

“It’ll thin out some once we get away from the Boston suburbs, Boss. I read recently that the government is talking about four and six-lane interstate roads that link all across the country. Something about the fast movement of the military if ever needed, like Hitler’s Autobahn.”

“I have to read more and pay more attention to what I read. I had never heard of a federal road expansion program. It would be better for truckers and commuters, too,” Scott disclosed.

The commander at Leominster Barracks didn’t hesitate when presented with the court order, but many questions were asked, with Scott dodging them expertly.

“This is a highly classified case, Captain, with various Washington agencies involved,” Scott finally told the Commander. “I don’t like being evasive, but I have no choice. Thank you for your cooperation, Sir.”

“Now, Allan, we need a place to stash this crate until we are ready to show them to an expert,” Scott said, trusting that Allan would come up with a good answer.

“Let’s stop somewhere for breakfast, Boss. I don’t think well on an empty stomach.”

“Sure, we have time, and perhaps the traffic will subside while we have it. Make sure to disable the car when you park. It would take dynamite to open the trunk, but I don’t want anyone driving it away with that crate in the trunk.”

“Got-ya, Boss. This car‘s security is the best. It simply can’t be stolen conventionally and would take hours to unlock the wheels and find the engine disabler; then there is the tear gas!”

“What about Swenson’s Plumbing Company?” Allan asked after swallowing his last bite of sausage. “You trust Mic and Bill Swenson, and mentally, paintings and a plumbing business don’t mix. Who would think of looking there!”

“A genius like you, Allan. Swing by there before going to my office. I’ll talk to Bill about it. Heaven knows Bill has plenty of places to hide things among the fixtures and pipes in his warehouse.”

Bill Swenson greeted Scott, as always, with a big smile, an almost painful handshake, and a slap on the shoulder that could knock over a person unaware of Bill’s greetings.

Swenson listened intently as Scott told him what he felt sufficient to explain the case. “I’d like to hide the crate in your warehouse until needed, a week or so, I think.”

Swenson dialed the phone and said, “Mic, please come in here, then to Scott, “Micheal will know the best place. He is the most familiar with the warehouse.”

“Of course,” Mic said. “Hidden behind a stack of old bathtubs and halfway under a flight of stairs is a cupboard. It’s not more than three feet deep, but its door is about six-by-six and looks like part of the wall.”

“That will do, Mic. Does it have a lock?” Scott asked.

“Yes, and it’s hidden under a small sliding door, almost impossible to detect, at upper right.”

“I’d like to see it before bringing the crate in, if that’s ok, Bill. What’s the purpose of that cupboard?”

“Heck, Scott, I didn’t even know it was there. When I first looked to buy the building, I was told that bootleggers had the place back in those days, and after that, a clothing company used it as a warehouse. If either needed a secret place, it would be the bootleggers.”

“So, there is some romanticism associated with the old place. How interesting!” Mic said. “I’ll have to research the history of the building. -- don’t know what I might find.”

Bill Swenson threw up his hands, saying, “Oh, the exuberance of youth! Never mind that now, Mic. Take Scott and Allan to the warehouse and show them the cupboard.”

Mic led the way behind the stacked bathtubs, reached under a riser of the staircase, and came up with a strange double-sided key about eight inches long. He then reached head-high to the right and pushed a large nailhead. A small wall section slid to the left with a loud click, revealing an equally strange keyhole.

“Stand back,” Mic said as he inserted the key, gave it a twist right and left, and the door swung slowly and silently outward.

“Wow! isn’t that something,” Allan said. That key reminds me of an ancient Italian wine cellar key I came across when studying the making and properties of old-time wines.”

“Enough, Allan,” Scott said as he walked to the cupboard and compared it to the crate size. “I’m pretty sure it will fit, so let’s tell Bill and get the crate.”

“No one’s found the key before, so I’ll put it back under the riser, Mic said.”

Scott said, “Hold on, I’d like to make a wax impression before you do that.”

“Sure. We have wax toilet rings here, and it’s sturdy like beeswax. I’ll get one, and we can make the impression in my office.”

Mic turned on the hotplate in his office, sometimes used to heat his lunch or run a percolator. Holding the wax ring about three inches above the red hot coils, he rotated it slowly for several minutes. When the wax looked right, Mic took the key from his pocket, pressed the working end into the soft wax, and handed it to Scott.

“I’ll let it cool a while before removing the key. It has to be cool enough to remove the key but not distort the impression, a very critical operation.”

“I suppose you learned that from Albert Smyth?” Scott asked.

“Yes, I did, Scott. But this is the first time I have used it, believe it or not.”

“I’m happy you remembered, Mic, and for a good cause. What do I do with it next?”

“Take it home, wrap it in cloth, and stick it into the refrigerator. A casting company can make a sand mold and cast a new key if we ever need to use it. It’s a two-step process. First, a plaster key is made from the wax impression. This destroys the wax. Then, the plaster key is used to make the sand mold for casting in metal. Have the casting technician make two sand molds and two keys. Should one of the keys not work, there’s a backup.  When completed, you keep the plaster key securely tucked away and ensure that the wax impression is destroyed. Now, bring your car around, and we’ll get the paintings in the warehouse under lock and key.”

“Mic, you and Cousins, when he was around, never failed to amaze me, and you still keep doing it. I hope this works, and many thanks, my friend. Please express my gratitude to Bill Swanson.”

On the way back, Scott asked, “What’s this about wine research, Allan?”

“I belong to a wine club and got interested in the origins of wine, so I did some research, that’s all.”

“Do you still go to the club meetings?” Scott asked.

“Not so much now that I have personal obligations.”

“You’re talking about your dates, I assume,” Scott said questioningly.

“Yes,” Allan said, and, once again, without elaborating on the answer.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired. Oh, and in case you didn't notice.... he's a pipe smoker too.

Copyright  Ernest N. Whitenack © 2022
All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, printing, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Historical research, thanks to Wikipedia, FBI cases, and miscellaneous reading.This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, andincidents are the products of the author’s imagination or fictitious. Real places and names are used in a fictional manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is purely coincidental.

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