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A Pear Tree on a Summer Day

by Laura Gray 9 months ago in fiction
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A story inspired by the Isabella Stewart Warner Museum robbery, and "Blossoming Pear Tree", a painting by Monet, used fictionally.

Blossoming Pear Tree by Claude Monet

"Authorities have arrested a man in connection with the stolen Jean-Pierre Archambault painting, A Pear Tree on a Summer Day. The painting, a 19th Century impressionism work valued at over three-quarters of a million dollars, was stolen from the Louvre back in the late-70s, in the biggest art heist France had ever seen.

"Archambault, a starving artist of his day, didn't reach levels of fame until after his mysterious death back in 1899 where he was last seen leaving the mercantile. Witnessed described a cloud of smoke seeming to emanate from the cobblestone street and when the smoke cleared, Archambault was on the ground, his cane several yards away, the purchases scattered about his feet.

"Authorities are not yet releasing the name of this person of interest, nor how they believe him to be connected, but our sources say that he could be the one who paid for the stolen piece.

"Although the painting has not officially been recovered, sources say the Louvre has adjusted the payout to just over $10 million, adjusting for inflation from the late-70s.

"What a pretty chunk of change that would be, huh?"

Several newscasters chuckled. The pretty blonde who'd reported the story turned to her left. "Now onto Stacy with the weather. Stace?"

The power button on the remote was hit, causing the old-style television to fade to black until only a pinprick of light was highlighted at the center of the screen. After a moment, it too disappeared.

Julie looked around the motel room. It stank of old cigarettes and sex. The wallpaper was yellowed and crumbling. The bedspread was stiff with unknown stains, and unyielding. She sat ramrod straight in an armchair in the corner of the room, glancing through the sheer curtains every twenty seconds.

Her fingers itched to slide her SD card into the slot on the back of her cell phone. Itched to turn on the phone to reach out to her parents, her sister, her best friend Amanda; to tell them that she was okay, but wouldn't be coming home for a while. She yearned for the slow draw of a cigarette she'd given up a year ago, or the taste of a drop of the whiskey which she'd also abandoned.

Another glance through the sheer curtain told her that nothing had changed. No cars drove by slowly; no one crept about. The day seemed unusually quiet, but that was probably just her heightened paranoia. What if they had blocked off the roads and were waiting her out? What if they were moving in?

No, Logic cut in. The police said they would come for you. Three quick raps, three seconds of silence, then four quick raps.

In her position on the chair behind the door, she would easily hear someone approaching. Friend or foe, she was ready.

Another glance at the clock told Julie that only ten minutes had passed since the news broadcast the capture of her former employer. Though they didn't release his name or face, they were reporting on Francisco (Frank) Allan Thibadeaux III, a wealthy oil tycoon with an eye for art and a penchant for violence.

Julie hadn't known Mr. Thibadeaux when he'd acquired the painting, hadn't even been alive back in the 70s. There were rumors of course, that circulated around Frank's dad, but no proof had ever been discovered that would've pointed to either man.

Until this morning.

6:59 am, to be exact.

Julie had been the maid at the Thibadeaux estate for the past six months, cleaning five days a week. On this day, she began her cleaning in the study when she accidentally moved a heavy, bronze statue. In the empty space where the statue had once stood, Julie noticed a slight dimple in the wood. She'd run her finger over the dimple and felt a raised dot.

She circled the dot curiously, and as almost an afterthought, applied pressure to the dimple. All of a sudden the wall to her left began to move. She jumped back, startled, yet stood in awe as the plain, eggshell colored plaster recessed into the back of the bookshelves.

She recognized the painting immediately and stood riveted, admiring merely inches away, one of the finest art pieces in the known world.

The painting, A Pear Tree on a Summer Day, was Archambault's finest. The brushstrokes were small, the colors unblended. The painting depicted a pear tree in an orchard of greenery, against a cornflower blue sky. A wooden fence surrounded the pear tree, which many critics had speculated signified Archambault's own life, feeling trapped as an artist with no escape.

Julie's mind began swimming in a compounded mixture of complete and utter awe, and oh-my-soul-this-isn't-happening fear! Within minutes, her feet carried her quickly out of the estate before her mind could process what was happening.

She ran to her car, abandoning her purse and other belongings somewhere in the servant's quarters, then pealed down the driveway nearly colliding with a convertible in her haste to escape. She drove blindly until her adrenaline began to subside, and pulled over onto the side of the road.

She breathed heavily as if running, not driving, carried her to this location. Her head fell against her steering wheel and she forced herself to calm down. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed her cell phone blinking from the center console. She picked it up, noticing a text from Mrs. Thibadeaux.

Cold fear gripped Julie's spine and without reading the text, she hastily tore the phone cover off her phone, pulling out the battery and SIM card. She threw all pieces into the passenger seat as if they'd just burned her hand, and stared at them, panting again. I have to get out of here! she thought, carefully pulling back onto the road.

She drove north for another mile before turning around and driving south. Sixty miles later she cut east, in the opposite direction of the estate, and drove until she spotted a dilapidated motel on the edge of town, three cities away.

Julie cautiously entered the lobby, begging the man behind the counter for a room, explaining that she was escaping an abusive relationship and didn't have cash to pay. A stretch of the truth, but it worked. The employee grunted and handed over a key, barely looking up from his phone. Julie thanked him profusely, promising that it would only be for one night, and that she would somehow pay.

Julie slithered to her car then backed it into the woods, getting out to check visibility a dozen times before she was satisfied. She climbed a tree and watched the parking lot for a full hour before feeling safe enough to creep to her room. She probably looked silly to anyone who may have managed to see her, creeping along a building in broad daylight, but she was beyond rational thought.

Once safely inside the room, Julie searched the entire space finding as many weapons as she could and memorizing possible hiding places, though they were few. That was when she moved the chair to the wall next to the door and sat, her mind racing. She picked up the phone a dozen times to call police, only to set the handset back on the receiver.

Finally, she remembered the secret cell phone given to her for work only. With shaking hands, she pulled it from her apron pocket and dialed authorities. She spoke quickly, informing them of the painting and its location, warning of the dangerous man in whose possession it remained. She explained her relationship to Thibadeaux and gave the phone number to her untraceable phone.

The day Julie had been hired to clean the estate, in the very study that housed the stolen painting, Frank had slid a cell phone across his massive oak desk, informing her that this was to be the only point of conversation with him when not in person. He explained that some of his business practices "were... profitable... and highly sensitive in nature", and that for her safety and his, she would need a phone that couldn't be traced.

Julie pulled her knees to her chest, hugging them tightly. She stared at the face of the phone, expecting her former boss to call or text at any minute as he figured out what was happening. She imagined his goons storming the parking lot and breaking down her door. Logic reminded her that Thibadeaux wouldn't be contacting her, and the secret phone was untraceable, so even if someone miraculously managed to get a trace, it would be days before she were found.

~*~*~

Hours later, with daylight waning, the phone lit up to indicate an incoming call. Julie accepted the call and with bated breath, silently held the phone to her ear.

"Miss White? This is Detective Maurice Hall. We spoke when you phoned in this morning reporting the discovery of the Archambault painting. Are you able to talk?" he asked, his voice dropping with concern.

"Y-yes," Julie whispered.

As Detective Hall spelled out the next steps, Julie felt herself relaxing slightly. She felt comfort in his deep voice, his words of promise and resolution helping to calm her nerves. He asked half a dozen times if she was okay, if she needed anything. In those moments, Julie felt safe.

That feeling dissipated as soon as the call ended. Paranoia blanketed her like a second skin and she went back to staring out the window, awaiting the Detective's coded knocks. He'd promised he was on the way and would be there within the hour.

~*~*~

The day was warm, with white clouds floating lazily in a blue sky. The sun was hot but not scorching. The weather was perfect.

Julie floated on a large, pink flamingo anchored in an ocean of the bluest blue, sipping a fancy drink with an umbrella. A large, floppy hat made of straw and oversized sunglasses hid her face.

Months after Detective Hall had come to her rescue, and being cooped up in a small high rise apartment throughout the duration of the trial, Julie had been granted leave. Of the remote options available to her, she chose a private island in the middle of nowhere.

The island was owned by another oil tycoon with a soft spot for damsels who'd risked their lives to recover stolen art. Julie had been on this private island for a month now, and had made acquaintance with the owner's maid. Though she didn't speak the maid's native language, she was assured by the island's owner that her identity would be kept a secret.

As added assurance, Julie made sure to tip maid well, thanks to a bank account that had reached a cool $10 million.

fiction

About the author

Laura Gray

Coffee gets me started; my toddler keeps me haggard.

I've always had a passion for writing but fear has stopped me from sharing my work with anyone. Vocal is my push to step out of my comfort zone.

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