I’d been told the drive from Paris to Lyon would take about five hours. I made it in just over four. Driving in the middle of the night didn’t hurt. There was such a delicate balance between whizzing through the country as fast as I could get away from the Louvre and being so reckless that I risked damaging my contraband. I mean, what’s the point of stealing a painting worth hundreds of thousands of euros only to destroy it with recklessness.
Oh, yes. I stole the painting, and I had to get out of Paris before the gendarmes got me.
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Yeah, I’m Guilty! Wouldn’t You Be Crazy Excited, Too?
Let’s go back a bit. As far as the other authors were concerned, I was home taking care of my mom and unable to visit Paris for the big celebration of Liz’s book, Slashed Canvas. For the record, it’s all true. I couldn’t go at first, which was awful, because I had huge plans for while I was there. I wanted to steal a painting–any painting. But then Mom got sick, and I couldn’t go. I’d made all these really elaborate and crazy, hard-to-pull-off plans, for what? Nothing. So sad.
Then, at the last minute, my sister says, “Hey! They found termites in the building. I’ll be off for a week. I want to come see Mom.”
I was like, “Bring it on!” And I booked my ticket.
This was even better. No one thought I’d be there. And I wasn’t telling a soul.
I arrived just after midnight and snagged a taxi after the hassle at customs. Seriously, you’d think tons of latex gloves and masks were suspicious in today’s climate! Or maybe it was the rope and the carabiners… Anyway, I finally dashed out of the airport and hailed a taxi. “Rue de Richelieu.”
“Oui.” I tried not to make it sound like “we” but come on. I don’t do French. Spanish is more my speed, comprende?
“Which one?” The guy sounded like Poirot to me, but Poirot would have kittens over that thought. I’m sure of it.
Maybe I was wearing my, “Correct my pronunciation, I love French words that make no sense” T-shirt or something because he told me how to say it… more like “pee-eh moan.” Seriously, as late as it was and tired as I was, it sounded like a bladder infection if you ask me.
The hotel clerk who checked me in looked just a smidge sleepy, but not too bad. “Welcome to Paris, Ms. Williamson.”
Step one, complete. Not trusting my use of phones (I don’t like the things) I asked to be awakened at eight o’clock sharp. The woman assured me that she would.
That’s the last thing I remember before the blare of my phone and the room phone conspired to shoot me into outer space.
Look, if I went through the entire process of getting into the Louvre wearing another woman’s nametag clipped to my very tacky yoga pants and super-baggy shirt, swiping her key card, getting to the security room to see where the cameras were least well-directed, and finally picking the perfect painting… okay, the fact that it was probably the one Liz Tolsma couldn’t stop raving over didn’t hurt. I’ll admit it.
Anyway, telling you all about that… tedious. Suffice it to say, I managed to get that painting out of there by walking out the front door. Ever seen National Treasure? Just like that. After I rolled up the canvas (no, I did not crack the oils), I slipped it inside a poster of one of Rembrandt’s paintings (Philosopher Reading), and paid cash for the thing. Cash, Cage. You bring cash to these kinds of things. Euros, in this instance.
For the record, I chose that one because it was one of the biggest ones available in the gift shop and because it was the most fully-stocked of the big ones. I figured this meant the people working at the counter didn’t handle them as much, so maybe they wouldn’t notice that it was a bit heavier. They didn’t.
But that might be because I totally pulled a Sidney Bristow from Alias and complimented the woman on her nails. Beautiful French manicures… of course.
After that, I walked right out the front door. Props to the guy who wrote National Treasure. There’s a lot of nonsense in that thing that could never happen, but I proved that you could definitely use the “document” in the poster trick. Just sayin’.
Anyway, after that, I had to beat it out of Paris before one of the other authors saw me.
After borrowing a car from a friend of a friend of a friend, and thanking the Lord that most of Europe is sensible enough to drive on the right side of the road…literally, I finally hit the road.
I had wanted to take the A6 (less than a 5-hour drive), but it has tolls, so I figured that meant cameras. Not a good idea. So, I went for the longer route. It also had tolls. And another longer route… you guessed it. Tolls. Again. Lots of euros and paying attention to how and where you got on-off. Sometimes I could go miles on semi-parallel roads, so I did avoid a lot, but not all. I had to pray it would be enough.
Oh, yes. I prayed I’d get away. Definitely.
I’d left after midnight and by the time I pulled into Lyon, I was beat. Still, I had to get to my destination before those crazy gendarmes caught up with me. They were on my tail. I knew it. But I couldn’t shake them for long.
The plan had been to race around the back, slip into a rear entrance, and make it up to the right office unseen, but I changed my mind. Oh, I pulled my car around back, and I went up to that door. I waited until someone came out and did everything I could to look like I went in, but I then scooted around to the front and marched right into the front door.
A receptionist gave me a cold, haughty look, but she didn’t scare me.
“I’d like to speak to Felix Paquet.” Just saying it made me feel like I’d created an Agatha Christie-esque character. I’m sure she would approve.”
The woman rolled her eyes. Okay, she didn’t actually roll them, but she looked like she wanted to. “Do you have an appointment?”
“I do. Please let him know that Carol Williamson has arrived.” Okay, so I glanced over my shoulder. “And if you could hurry, I’d appreciate it. I’m late.”
It took five minutes for the woman to finally inform me that an intern would be down to collect me. Well, that’s what I thought she said. She had one of those French accents that we all make fun of in movies… the way the English is so thick with French pronunciations that it sounds ludicrous? Well, she either was making fun of me, or some people really do that.
The intern appeared about the time I was afraid that the bullets I’d begun sweating would fire themselves at anyone who looked at me. We’d crossed the lobby and stepped into the elevator when three men in suits and two uniformed men burst into the building. My intern pushed the “doors closed” button just as a jumble of French and English words erupted through the lobby. I don’t know what any of them actually said, but I know the gist. “Stop that woman! She stole the Russian princess painting from the Louvre!”
The intern winked at me. “Did you really?”
Okay, so those tacky yoga pants and baggy shirt I’d worn? Yeah.
Since I had a witness (and a camera trained on me, no less), I reached behind me and pulled the poster tube from the side of my pants… modesty and all. I waggled it before him and said, “Yep!”
The guy’s lips pursed, and he led me out of the elevator and to a door marked Felix Paquet. I hadn’t stepped across the threshold of the little man’s office when the five men burst out of another elevator and raced toward me. They caught my arms just as I would have greeted the man behind the desk–my “fence” so to speak. Or was he my client? Was I his client? Who knew. But that’s the thing. I’d done it. Stolen the painting.
And I’d gotten away with it.
“Welcome to Interpol, Ms. Williamson!” He winked at me before adding, “Or should I say, ‘Mrs. Havig.'”
The guy holding onto my right arm–the one holding the poster–slacked a bit. “You know her?”
Mr. Paquet told the men they could release me before nodding to my poster. “May I see?”
I couldn’t help myself. I mean, come on. So, of course, I said, “Oui.”
In one swift move, he slipped the plastic sheath off the tube and unrolled the poster. As it opened, so did the painting. It curled, but it hadn’t been rolled up long enough to adopt a completely new shape. As he examined it, Paquet nodded. “You did as you were told. Very good. I am impressed.”
“I thought I’d be caught at the door–the back one. Who knew I could pull it off?”
The men who crowded the office demanded an explanation. One insisted I be arrested on the spot. The other called it a travesty. A third crowed that he’d caught me.
Mr. Paquet simply smiled. “Ms. Havig requested the opportunity to attempt to steal the painting and we accepted the challenge.”
The man who had crowed stopped his squawking. “What? And risk the paintings! Non!”
“There was no risk,” I said. “There are copies, you know–of every painting there? So when repairs have to be done or there’s a big public thing that puts them at risk, they… well, aren’t? They put all those up two nights ago when I said I was coming. They thought I’d do things when everything was busy this weekend–certainly not hours after I’d arrived, anyway.”
Look, I don’t often pull this stuff off.
It took months of planning, tons of begging, the promise of a big donation. Then I had to find someone willing to do that donating thing. All of that took AGES on the phone. I hate the phone. But there you have it. I managed to steal the painting of the Russian princess from the Louvre and turn it into Interpol before the police caught up with me.
Get this. I even overheard one of the Paris gendarmes discussing whether to keep the others still searching in case I’d pulled off a double-heist. They’re going to interview everyone I know there. Just in case. I tell you, those authors are going to be so confused.
Well, that’s it! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I just wish I could have seen more of France while I was there. It’s all a bit murky… shadowy… and moonlight-y.
Held prisoner by all she’s lost, Katarina’s about to lose all she has.
Princess Katarina Volstova barely escaped the Russian revolution, arriving in Paris just before the birth of her twin daughters. With her heart still captive in her homeland, she haunts the Louvre each day, spending hours gazing at one painting, lost in her pain.
Not the man he once was before the Great War, Georges Velvey hides himself away doing janitorial service in the Louvre and watching the beautiful woman whose pain seems riveted on one painting.
When Katarina returns home to find her daughters and their nanny missing, the loss opens her eyes to all she has to lose now.
Frantic to find her girls, her distress causes Georges to offer his assistance. Together they put together clues to a puzzle they must complete before the kidnapper ensures Katarina and her daughters are never reunited.
Slashed Canvas offers a retelling of The Lost Princess that mingles self-centered grief, spoiled little girls, and proof that nothing will stop a mother from saving her children.
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