Case of the Duplicitous Palette - 3

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Chapter Three

Case of the Duplicitous Palette


“Allan, please take this to Nat’s Photo Processing on Bromfield Street,” Scott requested. “I want it copied and a hundred same size prints made. Make sure you see Nat or his lab manager, Sully. Tell them I need as exact a copy as they can possibly make. Price is no object. Ask when the job will be completed.”

“Yes, Boss. Anything else you want while I’m out?”

Holding a lit match above his pipe, Scott shook his head no, and Allan left the office.

Scott has, for two days, continued going over the second batch of press releases from Consolidated News Service. Some a scant mention of the missing paintings and some conjecturing who and how the pictures were taken. There is little value in the second batch, and Scott pushes them aside, gets from his chair, and walks around the room, stretching. Moving to the window where Allan usually sits and gazes, Scott wonders if he has taken on more than he can give and should pass it all over to the FBI and step away.

Chapter Three

The intercom jolted Scott from his work a couple of days later as Annie’s voice came to him. “FBI on the phone, line one.”

“Malison here. The New York office thinks it has a line on that lady selling the Cezanne copy, and DC wants this office to pick her up for initial questioning. She lives out West just North of Becket on Route Eight. I’m sending a couple of men out there tomorrow and wondered if you wanted in on it. The State Police are watching her house and are instructed to detain her if she attempts to leave.”

“Heavens no, Harry,” Scott answered. “The fact is, I think I’ve embedded myself too deeply into this problem. It’s much too early to be taking an active part. But as a consultant? Maybe.”

“Again? Don’t get indecisive on me now, Scott, especially since Matt Hart has given you the go-ahead.”

“Harry, how come the Albany office isn’t doing this instead of you. After all, it is a New York case?”

“I didn’t ask. I was ordered, so I’ll bring Miss Caroline Halstead into custody. It’s as simple as that. I hope you will sit in when she is questioned. Your legal mind is devious enough to always be helpful.”

“For now, I’ll take that as a compliment, and I will if Matt gives the OK, Scott replied, a little miffed.”

“To answer your question, An Art Recovery Team calling on galleries got a description and the card from an employee. The team, in turn, showed the person the sketch photo you had made. The employee immediately confirmed it was the same woman, and she does live in Massachusetts.”

“A business card, you say? Then it could be an Alias. It’s a good thing we have the sketch for confirmation. As other gallery people see the drawing, it will be interesting if they give the agents the same name. People pulling a con usually use several names.”

“Time will give the answer to that, Scott, unless she has cards with several different names in her possession when she’s put in custody. I’ll be talking to you tomorrow afternoon.”

Scott naturally started thinking about Harry’s news and wondering when the next copy might show up. If it would be the same view of Auvers-sur-Oise or something different, How large an organization is behind the whole thing, and how many salespeople might be out there peddling the copies across the world.

As Annie and Scott closed the door for the day, another courier stepped from the elevator with a package from Consolidated News.

“I’ll take care of this,” Annie said. “You go on home, Scott. You look tired and drawn. We’ll tackle the package in the morning.

Allan, waiting in the car for Scott, opened the door, but Scott waved him off, saying, “I’d like to walk today. My mind is in a whirl over this case. Perhaps the walk will relax me a bit. See you tomorrow at seven-thirty.”

Scott entered the Boston Common for his familiar walk diagonally through to Beacon Street but stopped at the second of the green-painted park benches lining the walkway. He struck a match on a close-by tree and lit the pipe he filled before leaving the office, turned, and sat on the bench, something he never did before on his way home. While giving his pipe a second lighting, Scott watched the Pigeons approach, looking to be fed. He found it funny when the Squirrels moved in, a couple sitting on their haunches begging, and the Pigeons quickly dispersing.

“The pecking order,” Scott mumbled to himself. “What a shame we all can’t just live and let live.”

By the time Scott reached the front gate of his Walnut Street home, most of the day’s lingering problems were replaced with pleasant images of Nancy, dinner, and a relaxing evening.

“Well, you’re looking better this morning, Boss,” Allan said as Scott entered the waiting car. “Where to?”

“The law office, please. And yes, I feel good. I was tearing myself up yesterday about the extent of my involvement in this painting case when it is actually the FBI’s problem.”

“I can understand that. And I also appreciate the dedication that drives you. You’re not Atlas, Boss, carrying the heavens on your shoulders.”

“I’m grateful for your concern, Allan. I am what I am, but I must try to restrain myself. At times I guess it’s challenging to live with me.”

“I won’t amplify your feelings by agreeing with you,” Allan bravely said. “ But, I’ll try to help when I can, and you know you always have my ear if you have a problem.”

Scott leaned forward from the back seat and squeezed Allan’s shoulder, saying, “Yes, I know.”

From the conference room, Annie heard Scott and Allan enter the outer office. “In here, Scott. I’m in the conference room with the latest releases from Consolidated News.”

Seeing the releases neatly placed in several piles, Scott asked, “What time did you come in this morning, young lady, or did you work all night?”

“It only took a couple of hours, and it’s only a preliminary correlation. I don’t mind,” Annie said in a tone that told Scott that it was the end of the discussion. “And it will lessen your job considerably,” She added.

“Also, Harry called a few minutes before you came in. They have Caroline Halstead, carrying fifteen different business cards, whatever that means, in a holding cell at FBI headquarters..”

“Complications is what that means. The FBI will now have to determine her real name before continuing.”

“Didn’t she have any other ID, a driver’s license, or something?” Scott immediately asked when he called Harry.

“No, not in the lady’s possession. Two agents are scouring her apartment right now, looking for evidence of a legal name. It will be faster than fingerprinting her if they find something,” Harry replied. “And a good morning to you, too.”

“Sorry, Harry, I guess I’m too anxious for details, Good Morning. Now, will you still question her this afternoon, not knowing her name?” Scott asked.

“Oh sure, I have to strike while the lady is still nervous about being arrested. Come on over if you have a mind to. Must go now. Goodby.”

As Scott worked his way through the piles of press releases, one stood out. A small quotation from an Interpol Captain at Interpol’s headquarters states: “Everything to date leads us to believe the theft from Oxford is the work of a gang from France with agents placed in most industrialized countries. We have not  determined where the copies are being made, but we are looking closely at France and the Netherlands.”

“Allan, please get three copies of this release made. I want to make sure the FBI and our Interpol friends, Inspectors Karl von Ropp and Frank Sullivan, are aware of this statement.”

“Happy to, Boss. I’m getting blurry-eyed reading these releases. This pile on the left are those I think you should see,” Allan said.

Later that afternoon, in Harry Malison’s office, Patricia Curry, alias Caroline Halstead, sits bewildered and wondering why she has been detained and questioned. Nancy sits nearby with her steno pad and several pencils ready to record the interrogation.

“Miss Curry, the painting you are attempting to sell is an amazingly accurate copy of one stollen from the Duke Charles Museum at Oxford University. How come you possess the copy, and what is the Cezanne Society International?” Harry asks to start the questioning.

“I don’t know why this is all happening. Why am I under arrest? I don’t know anything about the original View of Auvers-sur-Oise being unlawfully taken or copied. I was simply trying to sell a product certified by the Cezanne Society International, a group promoting the brilliance of the artist Cezanne.”

“How did you learn about the society and that they have copies of well-known paintings for sale?”

“I read an advertisement in the magazine “Wealth Now” that the Cezanne Society International is recruiting salespeople with experience selling high-cost items at a thirty percent commission. Having experience selling shares for venture capital groups and a couple of brokerage firms, the prospect fits right into my expertise. It meant big money for a relatively easy sell with no long-term commitment,” Curry answered.

“Then, Miss Curry, why are fifteen different names on your business cards? Was that your idea or that of whoever hired you?

“I was told, and it seemed logical at the time, that I would be selling paintings of various artists. I was to use a different name for each transaction unless to a repeat customer. The reason given was to justify the high commission and allow sufficient time to work on one customer at a time.”

“And that didn’t seem odd to you?” Harry asked.

“I’ve already told you that it seemed logical at the time. A name is just a name and did not enter into the transaction. The cost was invoiced by the society, and payment went directly to them. I didn’t receive any money from the buyer. Until your people arrested me, I sold one copy to a gallery in Poughkeepsie. I received my almost twenty-thousand dollar commission in an International Money Order within thirty days and in my own name.”

“This society, Who did you talk to, and where is the outfit located?”

“It all happened by mail or telegram. I spoke to no one. Some came from Rome and others from Bruges, Belgium.”

“And you still had no suspicions of illegality about the Cezanne Society International.”

“I moved slowly at first, naturally. But as things moved on and I received my first commission, I relaxed because everything went as it was explained. I had no reason to think anything was wrong.”

“All right, that’s enough for now. We are moving you to a hotel, under guard, of course. A woman agent will call on you every day to attend to your needs. You can also contact me through your guard. Think about today’s conversation and determine if you can add anything to it,” Harry concluded and buzzed the guard.

“Nancy, I’d appreciate it if you would type that up and take a copy to Scott when you go home. Please ask him to call me tomorrow.”

“Damn him, this is the very reason I didn’t want to sit in on the questioning. It’s not my place to be forming personality evaluations on people in FBI custody, Scott told Nancy after he read the transcript.”

“From what Harry said, he was hinting at an opinion on holding her in custody. He isn’t sure if he is holding her legally,” Nancy replied.

“The FBI has experts to determine things like that – lawers specializing in illegal arrests and detention. I might well give him a wrong answer. Where would he be if I did?”

“I would guess he didn’t want to bring it up with his boss, seeing that he was ordered to detain her.”

“I’ll talk to him in the morning. It seems lately that he has no backbone,” Scott said.

The following morning, when Scott called Malison, he told him, “Harry, I can help you with some things, but not advise if you are holding someone illegally or give you a personality profile of a person from a fifteen-minute interview.”

“Sorry, Scott. I didn’t intend to upset you. The young lady was so forthright and intelligent that it puzzled me. I’m torn between her being duped into something innocently or being very clever and devious. As for the legality, I think we should have asked for her cooperation rather than arrest her. I’m not sure she is guilty of anything other than being a bit naive.”

“You could be right, Harry, but the FBI has people much more vested in criminal law than I. Perhaps you should be telling all this to Frank Cassidy, your supervisor, and let him put it in front of the experts.”

“I’ll do that, even as I know he will tell me to make my own decisions. But I’ll hold my ground and firmly insist the question of illegal detention be brought to the experts, that I cannot continue without a decision on that point.”

“I hope that will make your supervisor take some action. It would make me if I were presented with such a proposal. Let me know what happens, Harry.”

Harry Malison stopped by Scott’s statehouse office three days later to inform him that Patricia Curry had been released.

“The legal brains said she shouldn’t have been arrested. In her mind, she committed no crime, but all the business cards indeed pointed to a criminal. Although that decision will make the case more difficult, I’m pleased about her release. She actually thanked me for bringing the theft to her attention. She said she would stick to her venture capital groups and brokerage firms for her income. I told her to investigate if she found another ad that promised big money.”

“So, it all worked out for you, Harry, and the FBI is generally wiser for it,” Scott said.

“Hopefully, Scott, because I had to listen to a ten-minute slap on the wrist from my boss for questioning orders. However, he half-heartedly apologized for the chewing out after telling me to release her.”

“Then relish it, Harry, and enjoy your day,” Scott said as Harry reached for the doorknob.

As Harry left, a girl from the Mailroom entered, saying, “This cable came for you from Interpol. I thought it might be important, seeing who it’s from, so I decided to bring it to you rather than placing it in your mailbox.”

“Thank you,” It is important, and whenever I get a Cablegram, please don’t hesitate to bring it to me. Cablegrams will always be urgent, as will registered mail. If you have a question about any piece of mail. please call me.”

“Yes, Sir. I will, the girl said, with more attention on Allan than Scott.”

“Do you know her, Allan?” Scott asked.

“Not yet, but soon, I think,” Allan replied with a broad smile.”

After reading the cable, Scott said, “Allan, I have to talk to Matt. How about getting coffee and bringing it to his office, and no stops at the Mail Room.”

“Matt, can you, from your DC contacts, get us in touch with someone in The US Border Patrol who makes decisions?”

“I think so, Scott, But why do you need them?’

“One of the press releases mentioned Interpol intercepting cases containing painting copies. The destination was written in Canadian French but failed to mention the destination city. I have a Cablegram from Sullivan telling me the cities are Montreal and Tsawwassen, British Columbia. Like the Scotch of Prohibition, I believe they were to be carried across the border to someone at each end of the USA. Canada should be advised of this too.

Three weeks have passed without a word about copied paintings being offered anywhere. It’s as if the case was put on the back burner. Then, Harry was waiting outside Scott’s State Street South office when Allen brought the car to a stop at the curb, and Scott emerged.

“Harry, are you waiting for me?” Scott asked.

“Why else do you think I’d be standing here? Let’s get to your office.”

“Patricia Curry has been murdered. Her body was found yesterday. It was in the woods, a hundred yards or so behind her home. A neighbor noticed several dogs sniffing and howling and called the local cops. Curry was killed execution-style with two thirty-eights to the back of her head.”

“Was anything found in the home? Any clues or notes? Anything missing?” Scott asked.

“I’ve told you all I know. I think it will be a couple of days before we know more. State police forensics is there, and one of our men from the Albany office.”

“Whoever is behind this sure doesn’t fool around. It seems a small thing to be killed over. Patricia didn’t tell you anything, really. Although I guess they didn’t believe her.” Scott sadly said.

Allan walked in carrying four paper cups of coffee, placed one on Annie’s desk, and took the others into Scott’s office.

“You’re looking rather somber, you two,” Allan said as he passed out the coffee.

Scott told him about the murder, and Allan commented, “That sure puts a new light on the case. From the murder, I imagine there at tons and tons of money and some very serious bad guys you’ll have to hunt down, Mister Malison.”

“It puts pressure, internationally, on many organizations and people. I think I’ll be going to Washington for a meeting on this, or DC will be coming to Massachusetts. You know, as I age, I wonder how many more grueling cases I can endure. This is a big one,” Harry said.

“If I were to have a say in this, I would work to get a special operative into the organization undercover, Scott said. “Obviously, Interpol, the FBI, or the Massachusetts State Police have no clue who they are up against. We know they are placing ads for salespeople. That’s how Patricia Curry got the job. Has anyone connected with the FBI Art Recovery Team, New York or DC, tried to trace the ad in the Wealth Now magazine? Seems like a good start to me.”

“Such a small but essential detail! How did it get lost among all the rest?” Harry pondered aloud.

“Thanks, Scott. I’ll pass it along to DC today. And I don’t want to hear any more self-denigrating comments about your value.”

“Allan, please pop out and buy a copy of Wealth Now, if you can find one. I want to look at the ad that roped in Patricia Curry,” Scott ordered.

I’ll look locally, Boss, but if I’m not back in twenty minutes, I’ve gone to Harvard Square. Wealth Now will be at the Harvard Square News Stand, if it’s anywhere.”

Michael Mitchell came to Scott’s office to pick Annie up for lunch at about noon. He stuck his head into Scott’s inner office to say hello and commented on the murder in the newspaper.

“I met a girl named Patricia Curry at Lucky Ryan’s office in New York years ago. She was into investment sales also. According to Ryan, he strung her along for a couple of months but never intended to invest with her. It was a game for Ryan. You don’t suppose it could be the same Patricia Curry?”

“Possibly, Mic. How old would you say she was at that time?”

“Gee, I don’t know. She looked like a high school kid. But then, she was selling investments, so I’d say twenty-two or three. I doubt she learned that business in high school.”

“Stop in when you bring Annie back if you have time. I’d like to discuss your Patricia Curry a bit more with you.”

Mic nodded yes as Annie grabbed his arm and tugged him away.

“That’s her, without a doubt,” Mic said later when Scott showed him the sketch photo. “

Is this the woman that was killed?”

“Yes, it is. She was innocently into something that got her picked up by the FBI. The people she worked for could not tolerate that, I guess. Interpol and the FBI are trying to find out who.”

“Well, one thing’s for sure, it wasn’t Albert Ryan behind the murder. Not from where he is, rotting away under six feet of earth,” Mic comments. “I’d like to hear more of this sometime.”

“Harry and I have been batting it around for only a short time, but yes, I’ll tell you about it when there is more to tell,” Scott replied.

“Give my best to Bill Swenson, please,” Scott added as Mic left.

It took a couple of hours, but Allan returned triumphantly, holding the latest issue of Wealth Now above his head and a submarine sandwich in his other hand.

“I had to go to Harvard Square, Boss. The guy there told me they only sell a few of each issue, and he’s thinking of dropping the magazine.”

Scott went through the publication page by page until he found the ad for the Cezanne Society International. He wrote down the European phone number and PO Box number in Zurich. Then turned to the front and tore out the publisher’s information page, and buzzed Annie to come in.

Scott gave Annie both pages. “Please, find out what country uses the phone number prefix in the ad. Then call this publisher and ask about advertising rates. Try to get an address out of them. They don’t list it or a country. After that, get me Harry at the FBI.”

Going over the magazine while waiting, Scott suspects the small amount of advertising on its pages, for such a slick publication, is not nearly enough to support the magazine and show a profit.

“Do you have something, Councilor,” Harry asked as soon as Scott said hello.

“Yes, I do. I’m just not sure of the value,” Scott replied and then went on to tell of the magazine and the ad.

“That phone number prefix indicates a telephone in Spain, but the PO Box is in Zurich. I don’t want to tell Frank Sullivan yet. Interpol could mess up our investigation here if they jump on it and raid both places. So, who do we contact in Washington to verify the phone and postal box?”

“Offhand, I’d say Counter Intelligence,” Harry replied. “But I’d want to check with my supervisor before going ahead. You saw how quickly DC put an Albany agent at the scene when the murder happened and within my regional authority. If we hand them that information, I feel DC will want to take over the case, but I see no alternative.”

“Neither do I, unless it’s Sullivan and Interpol.”

“No, hold off until I pass this info onto my boss and I get a reply. Hopefully, this afternoon.”

“Oh, I will. Frankly, I believe both the phone number and the box are waystations with automatic forwarding. The question is, to where?” Scott said.

“A plausible theory, my friend. We should hold on to it until it’s needed,” Harry suggested.

The match flamed on Scott’s first try, and he lit his father’s old carved Meerschaum. Then, to a loud squeak, he leaned back in his antique wood office chair and thought about the forwarding destination of the Cezanne Society International’s phone calls and mail. After a while, Scott gave up, realizing that any guesses he would make hold no validity, and returned to his law practice’s matters of the day.

Before entering, Annie gently knocked on Scott’s office door, opened it, and asked, “Anything else needed from me today, Scott?”

Wadsworth quickly glanced at the wall clock opposite his desk, saying, “Goodness, it’s that time already. No, Annie, you go along home. And forget what I just asked of you until tomorrow. I’ll leave Adam’s contract corrections on your desk. Tomorrow will give us plenty of time before submitting them to our clients, but thanks for asking.”

Allan, waiting for Scott in the outer office, grabbed the phone on its first ring as Scott came in and laid several manilla folders on Annie’s desk.

“It’s Harry Malison, Boss,” he said, handing the receiver to Scott.”

“I got an explanation for the New York agent at the murder scene. He’s looking for any indication that Patricia Curry made more New York sales contacts for Cezanne Society International, then he will be gone. I’ll be notified and send two men to Becket, Massachusetts, to help with the murder investigation. My supervisor will handle the phone prefix and postal box problems. Apparently, he has a friend in some branch of the Justice Department, a department we never hear about, who has the means to find the answers. I didn’t ask any questions.”

“That’s a good sign, Harry. From your boss’s actions, It doesn’t look like DC will take over from you. I’ll be glad to find out where that bunch is headquartered, and some international action can be taken. We might learn who represents them in this country.”

“That would be great if we do. As you suggested. I would like to get someone undercover in the organization. I have a gut feeling it’s a big one and active in most states,” Harry projected. 

“That may be, but let’s leave any future plans until we receive the information if it ever comes. Jumping ahead would be a sure way to make DC take your case.”

“Thanks for waiting, Allan. Take me home and come in for a Scotch,” Scott said while locking the office door.

“Not tonight, thanks. I have a dinner date in an hour.”

“That’s the first time you ever mentioned dating. Is this someone special, Allan?”

“Perhaps, Boss. It’s too early to say. Is it OK if I use the state’s car?”

“Of course, but pay for your gasoline. I’ll be expecting a report tomorrow.”

When Scott told Nancy about Allan’s date, she became excited and giddy, spouting in schoolgirl fashion, “That’s wonderful. Did he describe her? I want to meet her. Oh, I hope they will be happy.”

“Whoa, slow down. I said Allan has a date, not getting married. For all I know, it’s their first date. I’ll never understand why you women get so excited over a date. You all hear wedding bells.”

“Men!” Nancy said disgustedly and carried the dinner dishes into the kitchen. Returning with a coffeepot, she put an arm around Scott and kissed him on the forehead before filling his cup.


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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