by Jerry A. Sierra
"We're going to steal it," he says with conviction
Hector always brings a six-pack of beer; three for himself and three for me. It’s his way of not being rude while showing up unannounced. It doesn’t matter that I don’t drink beer, but I appreciate the gesture, and I usually don’t mind the company.
Now a part-time security advisor to jewelry stores in the Bay Area, Hector retired as a Police Detective after 25 years in service. Retired long before his prime, I should add, for reasons he’ll not talk about. He’s not as bitter as he is bored and under challenged.
On this day like any other we bitch about the world, and we’ve already exhausted all possible deliberations of what Robby the Robot would look like in a James Cameron remake of the classic Forbidden Planet. Hector, like me, is a sci-fi movie geek. But unlike me, he hates crime movies, which seems a little strange for an ex-law-man.
Somehow the topic changes to some photographs I have sitting on the vintage army-foot-locker coffee table that makes my living room sparkle. The photos show murals throughout the city.
“Where’d you get these?” He asks.
“My upstairs neighbor…”
He notices several photos of one mural that shows a woman’s face and her red hair.
“This one’s just a few blocks away,” I point to the photo in his hand. “Wanna go see it?”
“Yeah, we can get more beer.”
“Still have more in the fridge…”
“Those are yours.”
Hector can seem intimidating, standing at about 6-foot-4, 260 pounds of muscle with a leathery face and piercing eyes that see everything. Did I mention that a chunk of those 25 years with a badge were spent in the Cook County art/theft/fraud division?
Over the past year Hector has been rewriting his rejected screenplay about a cop in an off-world mining colony in the near future (It sounds a lot like Outland, but it’s nothing like it) and even though he knows it’s a long shot, he’s taking it. That’s one of the things I like about him.
I met Hector 15 years ago at the old video store on Market Street and 14th which is now a high-class pot club. He’s one of the few people I know that enjoys sci-fi movies from the 1950’s.
At 10 pm we stand in front of the Sultry Sins mural by Amanda Lynn and Lady Mags on Valencia at Duboce. The building was closed after a fire and is boarded up, but it looks like the restoration is about to begin. The mural is painted over boards that now surround the building, but soon it will be covered by scaffolding, and not as visible.
Hector takes a close look at the section of the mural where the face appears.
“So that’s the Mona Lisa…”
“What? No, its called Sultry Sins…”
He mumbles something I can’t make out, approaches the mural up close and explores it in detail.
“Boards… just basic boards… you can pull them off…”
“You can pull off the boards,” he says. “They’ll come right off…”
“I’m not tracking you, Hector.”
He turns his big frame towards me and I’m struck by the seriousness in his face.
“You know what’s going to happen to this mural in a few weeks?” He paused. “It’s going to be destroyed. Construction-site murals rarely survive.”
I was not tracking. My brain replays the opening sequence to The Twilight Zone and I make no attempt to adjust the picture.
Finally I respond, “Maybe it’s going to be moved… it’s too beautiful to…”
“Are you fraking kidding!?”
We walk a long block to a liquor store on Valencia at McCoppin where Hector buys another cold six-pack. And we take the long block back.
Finally I break the silence with the one question that must inevitably be asked in situations such as these.
“Hector, what the frak are you talking about?”
After a second or two he begins to answer in mid sentence. “…it’s only fair. Right? I mean, you love the painting, and it’s going to be destroyed, right?”
He shakes his big head and the beer cans in his right hand rattle a metal-like jangle that sends hypnotic signals to my brain.
“So, by stealing it, you’d be protecting it.”
“We’re going to steal it,” he says with conviction. “We’re going to steal the Mona Lisa. It will be my present to you.”
In the 15 years that I’d known Hector, I’d never seen such satisfaction in his face. Only after watching the end of Android (with Klaus Kinski) and two half-six-packs did he ever show me a face that even came close.
Walking back to my place in time for Conan, he’s just thinking out loud. “It’s a three-man job… we need a truck and some crowbar-type tools, portable light… it’s an easy entry…”
“We can’t damage the mural,” I understate, like Pacino before he guns down the police captain who tried to kill the Don.
“Chico. We need Chico.”
“What the frak’s a cheeko?”
“Chico. He’s a man. Decent. Has a truck and can advice us on tools. And most importantly, he owes me, big time.”
“Is he an ex cop?”
“No. He was a cat burglar. Retired. Good with safes, locks, window latches. You’ll like him. This is a walk in the park for him.”
I want to ask how he knows Chico can be trusted, but the caper discussion stops once the Conan theme music begins.