The Witnesses - A Short Story

 

Chapter One

Penelope was a Tour Guide of impeccable reputation.  She knew everything there was to know about the art in the museum, including the current exhibition.  She would explain in great detail why the artist made the choices she made and how one painting led to another and when she did what she did and who she was influenced by and where her art had been shown and what it all meant.  People loved her and always gave great compliments about her to the staff of the museum as they left.

Chapter Two

She was also a thief.  She only took when no one was looking, on those rainy, cold days when she would have just one person in her tour, or she was walking through the galleries and saw an easy mark.  The museum was an old place without a lot of money so it hadn’t yet installed security cameras. She was happy about that.  She had learned to pickpocket when on a vacation to Barcelona. She actually watched others doing it on La Rambla and simply imitated them again and again until she had it down.  She mostly stole wallets.  It was a fun challenge for her and she was quite prideful about her abilities.

Chapter Three

What she didn’t know however was that the current exhibition’s artwork held a secret.  It was more modern than the museum.  The artist, unbeknownst to anyone, had installed a camera into one of her sculptures in the exhibition.  Her father had worked as a camera repairman and often told her he thought it would be fun to secretly put cameras in art to see how people reacted to the work. He got the idea when she was a child and he had brought her to Disneyland. They went into the haunted house and he kept wondering if the animatronic figures had cameras in their heads to catch the reactions from people.  When she did a large sculpture of a head for the first time he asked if there was any way the head could contain a camera.  She figured out a way to make room while he adapted a little spy video camera he had got into the repair shop that had never been picked up after being dropped off for repair.

Chapter Four

The artist, a woman named, Britt Smithson, was getting a kick out of watching the video of people looking at her artwork. In particular the reactions to her paintings of sloped-shouldered slackers with big penises.  The men usually wouldn’t say much but the women would usually crack up or whisper to each other.  The camera didn’t have audio and she really wished it did when she saw this.  Some people hurried past without taking barely a glance.  Some seemed to really like the work, spending time looking and reading the little handout.  

When she saw the Tour Guide pickpocket the woman in front of the painting she was dumbstruck. Not because she knew Penelope, she didn’t. But just because it was so unexpected.  She showed the tape to her father who was very excited. He and his daughter had caught a thief with their little collaboration!

Chapter Five

They spent a lot of time talking about what they should do. Should they simply show the tape to the director of the museum? Maybe to the police? Maybe go and talk to the Tour Guide and let her know what they saw?  But if they did any of those things it would be found out that there was a camera in the sculpture and she didn’t want that to be known.  In the end they decided to set up a ‘gotcha’ operation.  They would have Britt’s sister, Goldy, be a solo museum visitor.  She was an easily distracted, spacey person to begin with, so asking her to play that role wasn’t a big deal. Goldy was up for it. It would allow her to put some of her long ago acting lessons into action.

Goldy was to get Penelope as a Tour Guide, make sure her purse was wide open, slung behind her with her bright pink wallet easily accessible. The wallet would have a little tracking device in it that her father had bought at Radio Shack and had installed.  Once it was stolen, Goldy would go to the front desk and complain, explain about the tracking device and bring out her iPhone with the tracking app on it.  It would be easy enough to track it back to Penelope that way and she would be caught. It was a simple. easy plan that would still allow the camera in the sculpture to be kept secret.

Chapter Six

The plan seemed to go perfectly.  Goldy played her role to perfection.  Penelope stole the pink wallet just as they expected she would and Goldy went to the front desk when she ‘discovered’ the theft after she had finished the tour.  The wallet’s signal could be seen on the iPhone and a security guard, a beefy, bearded guy named Gus, went with Goldy and her phone to find it.  They had to go through almost the entire museum to where the signal was coming from and the security guard turned out to be quite a flirtatious character.  In the five minutes it took to walk to the signal he had tried to finagled a date out of Goldy.  This happened to her much more often than she cared to admit and she held off saying yes for the time being.

When they arrived at the back of the museum, they were led to a trashcan just inside the entrance to a restroom.  The security guard took the plastic swinging part off the top and looked in. There, on top of a pile of wet paper towels was her pink wallet.  The security guard reached in brought it out and asked her to check to see if anything was missing.

Chapter 7

Goldy suddenly realized she had done a very stupid thing. Her sister and father had told her to take anything really valuable out of her wallet but in the nervousness of doing this secret mission she had completely forgotten to do that.  She had left all her credit cards, all her ID and all her money in the wallet.  She was feeling like a complete idiot as she looked through the wallet.  Relief came over her though when she discovered the only thing missing was her money.  It had been more than she usually carries, probably around $120.00. But that wasn’t going to throw her into poverty or make her miss her rent payment. It was just going to mean not buying anything at the flea market later that day.  She was pissed off at herself and relieved at the same time.

Gus said he would report the theft but chances are they would not be recovering any money.  Goldy asked about fingerprints on the wallet.  Gus said if they reported it to the police they would do that but if she just wanted to be done with it and not report it, then no, he wouldn’t be taking fingerprints.  Goldy asked if he thought he could find out who did it. He said it wasn’t likely but he would look as people left, keep an eye out in general and who knows, something might turn up.

Chapter 8

Goldy decided to just cut her losses and not call the police. She knew that is what her dad and Britt would want. And she had no intention of telling them she had stupidly forgotten to take her money and credit cards out of the wallet.  Gus gave her the number of the security office at the museum as well as his cell phone number. He also asked for hers in case he found something out.  She had a feeling he wanted the number to continue to try to get a date. She wasn’t wholly against the idea and gave him her number.

Chapter 9

Goldy called Britt as soon as she was out of the museum and explained everything that happened, not including the loss of the money.  Britt and their father were disappointed. They did have the tape showing Penelope stealing the wallet if they did want to go to the museum or the police, but it really didn’t seem to be worth it since as far as they knew nothing had been lost.  They still did worry about Penelope and her continued thievery. They just weren’t sure what to do about it.

Chapter 10

Gus had been wondering for a while about the loss of wallets and other items in the museum. He had seen all the reports come in, most via telephone after someone would get home from the museum and realize something was missing.  At first he thought it was a ring of pickpockets that had been around the city over the past few years. It had been reported on again and again but there hadn’t been any progress in catching anyone.  But after a while Gus came to the realization that something else was going on. First, it was only women’s wallets that were reported stolen, never a man’s.  The city-wide issue had mostly men being targeted.  Second, it only happened on slow day, never busy ones.  The city-wide pickpocketing was almost always at busy tourist destinations.  Gus was starting to have an idea that this might be someone from inside the museum. He instructed the other security guards to watch everyone, including staff. And when possible, discreetly use their cell phones to take pictures of videos of suspicious situations.

Chapter 11

It was a little over a week later, during a spring downpour in the city, that one of the security guards, a young women named Jolene, decided to follow Penelope from a distance.  It really was a reflection of Jolene being bored more than anything else, but she also had never liked Penelope nearly as much as everyone else.  Penelope had treated her rudely a few times in the back offices, basically ignoring her when she said hello and turning her back on her while she was saying something once.

Jolene had her cell phone recording video from the very far side of an empty gallery when it happened. She was looking the other way, out into another room, as if she was paying no attention to Penelope and the lone women she was with.  Penelope was explaining one of the paintings, pointing to the volcano in the background when she brought her hand up to the lady’s purse and quickly snatched her wallet out of it and put it in the museum bag she always carried with her so she could hand out information sheets.

Chapter 12

Jolene brought the video back to Gus who immediately went back with Jolene to the gallery and confronted Penelope.  Later that day she was both fired and arrested.  They found 5 sets of credit cards and 10 wallets in her apartment.  She confessed and told the authorities she had thrown away all but the nicest wallets. She had sold most of the credit cards on the black market except for the ones she had stolen recently.

Gus called Goldy and told her Penelope had been caught.  Penelope in turn called her sister and father and told them. They all took a deep sigh of relief over a resolution happening without the hidden camera being found out.

Epilogue

Gus also took one last chance to ask Goldy out.  Goldy said yes.  Gus and Goldy ended up dating for 2 years and getting married 3 years later.  Penelope was sentenced to jail time, spending three months incarcerated. She was ordered to repay close to $10,000.00 but never did, since she was basically broke the rest of her life.  Her life didn’t last long. She was hit by a taxi in a rainstorm two years later.

Britt never did another piece with a camera in it. Her father stuck to listening in on his Ham Radio to conversations in distant lands.

The End

 

 

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