The klaxon was still blaring as the man was thrust unceremoniously into the office.
“Ah, Mr Smythe how nice of you to join us,” smiled the security officer. “I have enjoyed following your progress around our museum. How fitting that you should end up in here.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t the foggiest idea what you are going on about,” replied the man in an impeccable English accent.”
“Really, Mr Smythe? And I suppose you will be aghast when I open your briefcase and discover a stolen painting. Dan, do the honours, will you?”
The uniformed guard stepped forward and placed the case on the desk. He popped the clasps and lifted the lid to reveal a rolled up canvas.
“What do you know?” said the security officer. “It’s Raphael’s ‘Woman caught in Adultery’, on loan from the Vatican. And strangely enough it was in the very gallery where some unscrupulous character breached our highly sophisticated security. Any comment, Mr Smythe?”
“I really don’t see the need,” was the unperturbed reply.
“Don’t you? Well we’ll see about that. Dan, take this painting outside and have it logged. Then get down to the Lower Gallery and confirm visually that it’s missing. We need to do this by the book if we’re to ensure a successful prosecution.”
The guard was almost out the door when his superior hollered after him, “And for goodness’ sake cancel that alarm! We’ve recovered the painting and caught the thief, so everyone else can go home.”
“It’s all rather ironic, don’t you think?”
“I’m sorry,” replied the Englishman,” I don’t follow.”
“Christ and the harlot. You know, be sure your sins will find you out.”
“I still don’t…”
“Look, Mr Smythe, spare me the pretence. What you couldn’t have known is that we received an anonymous tip-off that an art heist was being planned for today. We increased our security and eyeballed each and every one of our visitors. As soon as you walked in, we knew we had our man – Conrad Smythe, the scarlet pimpernel of the art world.”
“I really must protest. I’ve never had so much as a parking fine or a speeding ticket.”
“Up until now, Mr Smythe,” chuckled the security officer, “up until now! You see, we tracked your progress from room to room on our hidden camera network. But, when you entered the Lower Gallery, some child’s helium balloon slipped from her grasp and obscured our camera. How fortuitous!”
“So you’re saying that you don’t have any footage of my allegedly stealing the Raphael?”
“Ha, we don’t need any! As soon as the painting was cut out of the frame, the alarm went off, the doors were sealed, and there you were with our hot little exhibit in your case. I’m really rather surprised at how easy it was.”
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“It’s what Jesus said.
“Maybe so but what’s that got to do with anything?”
“I was just wondering how you can justify charging me with theft when you fiddle your expense account.”
“How do you know that? It’s not true!”
Mr Smythe smiled roguishly. “Perhaps the same way Christ knew what those Pharisees had been up to?”
“That’s ridiculous,” blustered the security officer.
“Then you’ll deny that you’re having an affair with your secretary - Miss Jones, I believe? Does your wife know of your adultery?”
“Are you trying to blackmail me?”
“Oh, not at all. I was merely drawing your attention to the irony.”
Suddenly the door burst open. “We’ve got a bit of a problem, chief!”
“I don’t want to know, Dan. Just finish the paperwork!”
“I wish I could,” replied the guard. “You really need to see this.” He pointed to the embossed lettering on the reverse side of the painting. “It says, ‘A genuine reproduction sold by the Vatican Museum of Antiquities.’ So this fellow couldn’t possibly have stolen it from downstairs.”
The security officer slumped back in his chair. “Then why did the alarm go off?” he asked.
“That’s the nub, chief. Seems that someone else has walked off with the Rembrandt. And, umm, since you cancelled the lockdown, whoever it was has vanished.”
Mr Smythe bounced to his feet. “I must be going, old boy. No hard feelings, what?” As the door slammed shut, the security officer buried his head in his hands. He could only pray that the curators were as merciful with him as Christ had been with the adulteress.
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