I walk across the room. I’m trying not to sweat. It’s summer in Italy and my uniform’s wool, I’m going to sweat. But I don’t want it to look like I’m stealing something. Because I’m stealing something.

My heels click on the parquet floor. Can’t be helped. I punch in a keycode, open a door. It has those buttons like chronograph pushers, each one echoes as I push it. Can’t be helped.

There’s a wall of boxes. Polished steel, each has a number and a keyhole. They range in size from so small to so large that it looks like a scene from Alice In Wonderland. The smallest boxes hold jewels or wristwatches. The largest hold sculptures or double basses. I only want one box. I know the number, and I have the key.

The room’s empty. It should be, I paid enough. I find my box, no bigger than the opening on a mailbox. I put in my key, turn it, pull out a drawer the length of a corpse-drawer in a morgue. Inside are long spacers holding a little cushion. On the cushion, surrounded by gun-cotton, is a little box.

I take the box. I’m still holding it when the door opens and someone walks in. It’s a young woman. She sees me, draws sharp breath. I force myself to smile at her, look away from her, close the drawer, put the box in a little bag. I hear the sound of the door close. I look up. She’s gone.

Too late to back away. Can’t run away. Nothing to do but go through with it and pray.

My prayers aren’t answered. I make it to the back exit but there’s a guard in the way. He When I get up to him three other guards appear around me. They stand very close to me. I can’t move. They take the little bag from me and pass it away. When it’s far enough away not to be in danger, they punch me in the stomach and push me down to the floor. Then they handcuff me. Then they start to kick me.

I’m going to jail.

*** *** ***

I’m in the civilized part of Italy. The police come and take me away. I’m no more bloody in the interrogation room than I was before.

A detective enters the room. He’s alone. He’s not all that worried about this one. “You were caught red-handed,” he says, in Italian. My papers say I’m Italian. My accent says about the same.

“I was,” I say.

“Do you confess?” he says.

I nod. “Absolutely.”

He leans back, scratches his elegant stubble. “Tell me about it.”

“So, La Rialto is a little upstart auction-house. Having an auction in the middle of the Biennale is considered a bit tacky, but they need something to put them on the map. The auction consisted of two private collections, intermixed. One was from a small museum in Denmark that is liquidating to buy rainforest instead. The other is the private collection of a Senegalese dictator who isn’t dictator any more.

“They had one piece I wanted. I really wanted. An early 20th-century assemblage, paper and pine. According to the catalog it was made by a Danish schoolteacher named Embla Lund and was worth three to five thousand euro. It belonged to the dictator.”

“And you just wanted it?”

“I did. And I don’t have three thousand euro, let alone five.”


“So I was going to steal it.”

He gestures for me to go on.

“So I started two weeks ago at the security firm. I passed the training and they made me a guard. Worked some little jobs. Made a little straight cash – not very much. I asked the shift coordinator to assign me to La Rialto and she agreed. Didn’t even need to pay a bribe.

“I looked over an appraiser’s shoulder until I figured out where the box was – which bin. I stole a keyring from a curator and copied the key I wanted. He was too scared to report the keyring missing. Which I knew. I returned it to his jacket pocket and watched him out of the corner of my eye when he put the jacket on and heard it jingle. He looked like he would cry.

“I changed shifts twice with two other guards, ended up working thirty hours in a row. But as a result I saw the entire auction-house, learned how it operated. I timed a cigarette break to coincide with the evening staff meeting, went into the room to get a box. But some staff wandered in – a fifteen-second window, she just happened to wander in! And that was that.”

He waited for me to go on. But I was done.

He asked me a few more questions. About my background. About other things I’ve stolen. I was quite upfront. I told him that I stole things from time to time when I really wanted them – just silly little things when I really wanted them. Okay, alright, sometimes I sold things to pay the rent. But not on anyone’s orders – I wasn’t ‘Ndràngheta – I just needed to pay the rent. Everyone needs to pay the rent.

He seemed satisfied. He got up, clapped me on the shoulder, squeezed. But he was already on his way out the door.

A little later he came in with a statement for me to sign. He told me to read it. I just signed it. I trusted him.

I slept in a cell with four other people. A courtesy; I could have been in one with forty. The next morning I was brought before a judge. I was charged with stealing something worth less than two thousand euro, a minor offense, and my first. The judge ordered me to attend a two-hour diversionary program and complete twenty-five hours of community service.

I was released.

*** *** ***

It took me two weeks to get into an open diversionary program. It was very boring. Most of the people there didn’t even speak Italian. By then I’d done over two hundred hours of community service. I didn’t have anything else to do.

A perfectly clean identity is most suspect. An identity with a little past is worth its weight in gold. It was a good investment. And it’s no hardship to be in Venice – even if you’re wearing a yellow vest while pulling trash out of the canals.

I left Venice before the auction. The little box went for five point three million euro. It was discovered to have actually been made by a young Robert Motherwell and was a unique addition to his catalogue raisonnee.

I had known all that. More importantly, I knew that at least two other people knew it too. They would bid on the item. They would bid it to a thousand times its estimate. It would confuse the auctioneer but not unpleasantly. Later, when the piece’s provenance was demonstrated, La Rialto would be most embarrassed – but in a way that would titillate their clientele. The piece would become a well-known item in the world of art – never again to offer such a margin of profit.

I had to get it first. I didn’t have much time, and no connections to speak of in the City of Masks. I would have to steal it myself. I almost did.

After my release I made a few phone calls. With agonizing slowness, La Rialto realized the piece’s true provenance. They issued a catalog correction – called it a typo – and the Motherwell box became a centerpiece of the auction. The bidders I knew of didn’t even attend.

I watched the auction until the box was sold – then closed my laptop, and asked a flight attendant for a drink.


~ by davekov on 2 October 2017.

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