Eiffin Lund adjusted his heavy belt and the night stick that was poking him in the roll of fat above his waist. It didn’t bother the man that his security uniform fit so snugly or that he bulged around the middle like a stuffed chicken. He was in his early sixties now, and as far as he was concerned, he had earned a little plumpness. Besides, he had learned long ago, it didn’t matter how many miles he walked, that spare tire was going nowhere. Satisfied that the night stick was now resting in a less intrusive area, he continued up the snowy steps leading to the back entrance of the Museum of Naval History.
Once on the landing, his gaze swept over his beloved settlement of Deep Cove. Night was resolving over the town, and a bank of clouds was thick in the winter sky. Eiffin watched as one of the town’s watchmen arrived to light the street lamp on the main roadway. Out in the harbour, a ship’s bell rang out, signifying the departure of one of the few vessels underway this time of year.
Leaving the chill air behind, Eiffin entered the museum and made his way down the narrow corridor to the staff lunchroom. He stopped in the doorway when he realized the room was dark; it struck him as odd that Gordon wasn’t present and drinking the day’s last cup of coffee. Eiffin shrugged and waddled into the room. He placed his lunch tin on the table before going to the back counter and lighting a lamp. It wasn’t the first time the curator had been forced to give a late tour.
With the lamp glowing softly, Eiffin placed the burnt matchstick in the sink and guided the light to his lunchbox. He licked his lips in anticipation as he opened the tin. What had Murdle prepared for him today? His beefy hand disappeared in the container. Two ham sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, an apple, his thermos of soup …and? Jackpot! Buried at the bottom, wrapped in its own sheath of wax, lay a fresh cinnamon bun. Setting the apple beside the lunchbox for his friend, he closed the tin.
Glancing at the clock on the wall he noted the time as five minutes after seven. He crossed to the corner of the room where a small woodstove was used to heat the water for their coffee. The stove was cold. Eiffin grunted to himself and adjusted his belt again.
He grabbed the lamp from the table and headed back into the corridor that would see him into the museum proper. Once in the hallway, he passed several cabinets housing a variety of naval goods. A collection of spy glasses was arranged at one table, numerous naval charts were arranged at the next, and a large map detailing the west coast of Vellia filled the wall after that. He ignored the familiar trappings in the darkened corridor. “Gordie?” he called out, but was greeted with silence.
Entering the main gallery, the glow of his lamp was refracted off the old wood of a once mighty pirate ship. It wasn’t a whole ship, but a good section of the hull and deck. There were neither masts nor sails present, yet the sample of the brig seemed great within the confined walls of the gallery. The entire display was roped off, and an emblazoned plaque proudly declared the remains as belonging to the notorious pirate “Black Barry.”
Down the lengthy chamber he went, passing everything from trinkets to mannequins decked out in the navy’s finest apparel. The light from his lamp illuminated dozens of display cases and reflected from an equal amount of framed pieces lining the exhibits. Spotting the glow of a second lamp up on the balcony, Eiffin aimed for the broad stairway that would see him up to the second level and the artworks housed above.
With his lamp held high, Eiffin approached the figures at the end of the hall. Gordie had his back to him and was pointing to a framed portrait of the once Earl of Port Aphide, Carn Gaynor. Legend held that the Earl had been a fine seaman in his own right. The other two men stood back from Gordie, remaining between the curator and the security guard as he approached. Both visitors were cloaked by the shadows of the dark museum.
“Gordie,” huffed Eiffin, approaching the trio, “I was worried when I couldn’t find you. I thought you might have taken another spill!” The robust watchman laughed as the others turned to face him.
Eiffin’s humour drained away as the light from his lamp washed over the museum’s guests. The men wore dark clothing and had pulled handkerchiefs over their faces. Both men were carrying loaded crossbows. For half a second, Eiffin considered running, but he knew he’d get nowhere before one of those bolts lifted him. Suddenly, his pulse was strong in his neck, and a dull thudding filled his ears. “Wha… what’s going on here?” he stuttered, despite already knowing the answer.
“These gentlemen are looking for a particular painting,” returned Gordie. The curator was also nearing sixty and his steel grey hair was combed perfectly to one side. His usually soft features were rigid. Eiffin noticed a crease in the man’s forehead. “Thus far we have been unsuccessful in locating the particular piece.”
“And my patience is running out!” snapped the robber on the right.
“Now now,” said Gordie in a calm voice, “there will be no need for violence. Neither myself nor Eiffin pose any threat to you gentlemen.” Gordie cautiously guided the tip of the crossbow from his torso as he made his way between the two men. Eiffin swiftly nodded his agreement.
“Well you better find what we’re after, and soon,” said the other burglar. “And don’t tell me it’s not here, because I saw it with my own eyes last fall.” This man was taller than his counterpart, his voice more nasal.
Eiffin grunted as Gordie drew alongside him. “Which painting are we after?” he inquired. He tried to work up some moisture to alleviate his suddenly dry throat, but could only smack his parched lips.
“Therein lays the root of the dilemma,” said Gordie.
“How so?” Eiffin was confused.
“These fellows don’t know what they’re after.”
“Do to,” argued the first crossbowman. “I told you the picture has a violin in it.”
“We sir,” replied Gordie in contempt, “are the Museum of Naval History. Not the Museum of Modern Arts!” He pushed past Eiffin, his lantern swinging with the movement. “No artist’s name, no setting… You can’t even tell me the size of the canvas.”
“It’s in the basement,” said Eiffin quietly.
Gordie spun to face his friend, a peculiar look gracing his features. “How do you figure?” he asked.
“It’s the one with the Admiral playing his Cordivini in front of the fireplace.”
“That’s the one!” agreed the robber on the right. He elbowed his taller counterpart and nodded enthusiastically.
“Oh,” said Gordie, recognition lighting his features, “quite right. I nearly forgot about that old thing.”
“To the basement,” said the taller burglar waving his crossbow toward the stairs. “And no funny business.”
Gordie led the men into the confines of the undercroft, but it was Eiffin who showed them to the painting. The artwork rested against a pile of framed paintings, a coating of dust dulling the once vibrant colors of the piece. “I’ll get this chest out of your way,” he offered, dragging a sizeable trunk from in front of the frame.
The shorter of the burglars waved his crossbow under Gordon’s nose as he advanced on the portrait. Licking a thumb he wiped at the dust and grime in the top corner, smudging a dark imprint across the cracked paint.” Gordon cringed, but remained silent.
“Hey!” snapped the taller of the two bandits. “Even I know you don’t do that to art.”
Gordon frowned. “This can hardly be considered a work of art. In fact the frame is worth more than the painting.”
“The devil is in the details,” returned the shorter of the men. He removed a knife from a sheath on his waist and sliced into the top of the canvas. “You can keep your expensive frame,” he said with glee. He continued cutting along the edge of the frame before rolling the canvas and tucking it under his arm. He used his boot to shove the frame behind the chest once more, and then nodded at the two men.
“You boy’s count to three hundred before you move,” said his taller accomplice.
“Slowly,” added the first man, relieving Eiffin of his lamp.
Eiffin and Gordon were silent for several seconds as the sound of the robbers receded. At last Eiffin released his breath. “Boy that was unexpected,” he mumbled.
Gordon ran his hand over the picture frame, a thoughtful look on his face. “We tried to sell that painting at the church yard-sale for pennies last spring and nobody wanted it.”
“I recall,” agreed Eiffin. “Are you going to report this?”
Gordon frowned and then cleared his throat. Reaching into his pocket he produced a handful of copper gons. “Put these in the donation box,” he said. “I’ll mark the painting as having been sold.”
“Eiffin nodded and accepted the change as Gordon swung the lamp around to exit the basement. Now that the excitement was over, Eiffin was only too happy to get back to the monotony of night shift and the sweet promise of his wife’s homemade cinnamon bun.