The Dante Deception - Chapter Two

The Dante Deception – Chapter Two

In The Dante Deception, The Natalie Brandon Series by Jenni0 Comments

September 4, 1972
Montréal, Canada

Augustus Wolverton Sinclair, seventh Baron Leighton, tightened his grip on the painting he’d come for. The Frenchmen had already stripped the backings, extracted the canvases, and smashed the frames of the others on his list. “Allez,” he said, stepping over splintered wood and canvas shavings. “Nous sommes finis.”

Mais il y’en a plus.” Yves pointed to the far gallery, where three guards lay bound and gagged.

“I don’t care,” Sinclair said, pulling a Smith & Wesson Model 36. “Start loading.”

Anger brightened the younger man’s eyes, but he held his tongue. He bent over the pile stacked in the doorway and scooped up a Picasso.

Sinclair let out his breath. Art students. French art students. What had he been thinking?

Sinclair let out his breath. Art students. French art students. What had he been thinking?

All they had to do was prop open the service door and transfer the jewelry and paintings to the panel van. Alain, their climber, had already loaded the Rembrandt and a Gainsborough. When the theft was discovered, everyone would think he’d been after one of them.

It bought him time, but not much.

He still had to figure out how to get in and out of Moscow undetected. He didn’t trust Russians in general, and his client in particular, but the inheritance taxes were due on Rocksavage and his mother was buried in the family plot. Losing either was not an option.

Sinclair pinched the bridge of his nose. What had the poet said? Something about miles to go and promises to keep. Typically American, bland and dogged, but with a terse merit he admired. Someday he’d visit the cities they said compared with his own. Princess Margaret had quite liked New York, he heard.

A piercing electronic wail dissolved his memory of the princess.

Sinclair froze. The contractor repairing the skylight had assured him a rooftop entry wouldn’t trigger the alarm. “That lying bastard,” he hissed.

Yves dashed back into the room. “What the hell is going on?”

Spiked boot soles clanked behind him. Alain reappeared with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun under his right arm. “We need to go—get in the van.”

Spiked boot soles clanked behind him. Alain reappeared with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun under his right arm. “We need to go—get in the van.”

“No.” If the contractor had lied about the alarm, he might also have lied about the museum’s van. For all he knew, it had no petrol or a potato in the tailpipe. Once upon a time, thieves had helped each other out of professional courtesy. Now it was every man for himself. “Get the Rembrandt and the Gainsborough. Carry what else you can.”

“We’re going on foot?”

“Unless you had the foresight to park an unregistered car nearby, in which case I would mistake that foresight for prior knowledge of such a need.” He drew back the hammer for show. “And then I’d have to kill you.”

“My brother has the shotgun,” Yves said. “You don’t have time to kill both of us.”

“I don’t have to.” Sinclair shifted his gaze to the younger brother. The boy’s forehead gleamed with sweat and he hadn’t even raised the gun yet. “Keep the Rembrandt. You earned it.”

“What about me?” Yves asked.

“There’s a Tintoretto by the door. You’re holding a Picasso.”

“Let’s go,” Alain said. He turned and fled through the service door.

Sinclair smiled at Yves. “After you.”

Sinclair smiled at Yves. “After you.”

Yves stuffed a handful of jewels in his pocket, grabbed a stack of canvases, and ran. Sinclair slid the revolver into its holster and reached for a few small landscapes as he passed. His heart quivered at the sight of an El Greco lying frameless on the floor, but he had what he’d come for. The rest couldn’t be helped.

They ran out the side door, past the ladder still propped against the museum’s granite exterior. Two blocks down Sherbrooke, Sinclair cut left and pressed himself around the corner of another tall building. Alain stopped to rebalance the canvases clutched to his chest. The shotgun slid out from under his arm and he grasped at it awkwardly. “What now?”

“Now,” Sinclair panted, “we bid each other adieu.”

Yves and Alain exchanged a glance. “And then?”

“If you have the Tintoretto, the Italians will probably be interested. Get thirty percent of market value in cash, and you can live happily ever after as an art school dropout.”

“Is that what you’re going to do?” Yves asked.

“Of course not.” Sinclair shuffled through his stack and pulled out a brown landscape of trees and cows. “I’d never enroll in art school to begin with. Here. This is for you.”

It had caught his eye when they pulled it off the wall. Signed Brueghel, the light falling on the horseflesh was right, but the windmill lacked dignity, the blades of grass lacked distinction, and the bird was anemic. He’d be damned if Brueghel—whose graceful avians flocked as warnings to the humans in and out of his paintings—had signed his name to that single blurry fleck of a bird. “This should set you up nicely.”

Yves pointed at the only painting still in its frame, clutched in Sinclair’s gloved hands. “I want that one.”

Yves pointed at the only painting still in its frame, clutched in Sinclair’s gloved hands. “I want that one.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

Yves snapped his fingers and Alain hefted the shotgun. “You haven’t let go of that painting all night. You already have a buyer willing to pay, non? Give me the Corot.”

Sinclair swore. He was as good as dead if he obeyed. The boys might damage the painting or sell it to another before he had a chance to stop it. His client had made it clear that only one outcome was acceptable. “You’ll regret this.”

Yves’s teeth were yellow and bent, like eroded tombstones. “Je crois que non.”

Sinclair’s fingers itched for the Smith & Wesson. It was just a game for these two, a chance to earn some extra money and put one over on the art world that had shattered their dreams. They knew nothing of love, desperation, or the weight of expectation. He felt older than his thirty-two years. “This is your last chance.”

“No,” Yves said, holding out his hand. “It is yours.”

Sinclair raised his arm over his head and whirled his index finger. A Luton van on the opposite side of the street roared to life. The driver pulled up alongside them, facing the wrong way on a one-way street.

“You planned this!” Yves snapped. “You meant to abandon us so they would catch us first!”

“You planned this!” Yves snapped. “You meant to abandon us so they would catch us first!”

“No,” Sinclair said. “But it would have been nice.” He slapped the roller back door with an open palm. “Let’s go.”

Alain hooked a finger around the shotgun’s trigger. “How do we know this isn’t a trap?”

“You don’t,” Sinclair said. “But the alarm has been ringing for three minutes now. You can run, carrying all those canvases, or you can come with me and continue our negotiations far from the Golden Mile.”

The brothers exchanged glances.

The sky was still black, but the first slivers of dawn would seek them out soon and they knew it.

The sky was still black, but the first slivers of dawn would seek them out soon and they knew it.

Yves nodded their acceptance.

Sinclair flipped the metal latch on the roller door. He flung it up and jumped aside.

Two flashes of light burst from the darkness.

Two bodies fell to the pavement below.

Sinclair breathed a sigh of relief.


Stay tuned for the next few chapters…


The Dante Deception: A Natalie Brandon Thriller by Jenni WiltzCan’t get enough? I posted character photos, a playlist, a reading list, and more on the book page!

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I write thrillers, romance, historical fiction, tiara posts, and more. Right now, I'm working on a series of Natalie Brandon thrillers. To find out when new books are released, click here to sign up for my mailing list.

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