by Jerry A. Sierra
But you have such a fine criminal mind...
In midst of accepting Chico’s cross-bar removal idea and working out the finer technical details of how to salvage Sultry Sins from the surrounding threats, the mural is stolen from us by an act of decadent stupidity; it’s painted over with thick coats of tan paint.
Thick coats of tan paint where a beautifully painted mural once “existed.”
On close inspection you can see remnants of the mural behind the tan paint. There seems to be no real reason for why it was done.
The crew is heartbroken.
The job is dead.
Sultry Sins received the ultimate punishment; it was literally erased from existence in its prime. We’ll never know why. Had the mural caused an accident? Had this been an act of idiotic gentrification? Did someone have a hair up their ass about redheads?
It takes us a while to get back to my place, and the Conan theme music is so low we can barely hear it.
Hector shuffles nervously through the prints on my vintage army foot locker coffee table and seems ready to pick another target.
“What about this one?” he says looking at another mural.
“That’s a wall.”
In a moment Chico joins in.
“How about this one?” says Hector. “This is a fence.”
“A fence is easy,” Chico reassures us. “We could do an alley fence in… 6 minutes.”
“That’s not even an Amanda Lynn mural,” I chirp.
“Does it HAVE to be an Amanda Wynn mural?”
“Oh. This one looks pretty good…”
“The Ex-Vandals!? Those guys could have me killed!” They squint and look at each other, but I stick to the story. “Really, they’re connected all the way to City Hall… The police won’t even investigate; they’ll say it was gang related.”
“So was that Mona Lisa one supposed to be very valuable one day?”
“Apparently not… but it reminded me of someone I knew, back in the day…”
Hector, who knew all along, nodded his head and smiled. “She looks like Ella…”
“A little bit…”
Chico lowers the prints in his hand. “Who was Ella?” he asks quietly. And we go on to have the kind of conversation that men are not known for in heist or sci-fi movies. The kind of talk that would help men become better men, better human beings, better lovers to our wives, girlfriends and mistresses, better husbands and fathers. I share with them why I had fallen for Hector’s crazy idea to steal the mural in the first place, and why I had asked my neighbor for the prints. I even show them an old photo from back in the day and they both agree it was almost the same person (except for darker, smaller hair in the photo). And I learn things about them that straight men don’t discuss during football games; about life and death and their relationships with women… Chico spent his life looking for the same woman he knew when he was 15 years old, and Hector had not been intimate with a woman (who was not a prostitute) since his wife passed away 12 years ago.
This soul-baring discussion lasts exactly 28 minutes, at which point we’re triggered like Cylons back into our established 21st century male programming. The shift is instantaneous.
Chico raises the print in his hand to chest level. “How about this one? She’s sexy, and she’s even got a camera. Where is this?”
“Let me see…” Hector leans into the image, “ah, and she’s on a fence!”
“That’s a back gate,” I snap.
“We can steal a back gate,” says Chico.
At this point, having just revealed my deepest insecurities and inspirations to a man who later said we could steal a back gate and one who had just nodded his head in agreement, another part of my personality emerges, and I begin to fear where this could end up. Even though I am the youngest, the burden of adult-responsibility falls to me.
“Guys… forget it. That mural’s been there for years and we’re not touching it.”
I like speaking with authority, but Chico seems confused. “So what’s our next step, boss?”
Hector turns his head in agreement.
“Boss?” I know he’s kidding. Between us, I’m the only one who has never spent a night in jail.
“You picked the target and the execution style…”
That wasn’t true, as I only offered to show the mural and got swept up in the idea.
“You picked the tools for fast, effective and quiet work,” said Chico, impressed. And he was right to be impressed, as I insisted that we avoid his initial crow bar, pick-axe, and hammer-screw driver combination, which would have damaged the prize. And I was the one who scouted the inside of the building in advance.
“You should pick the next target,” said Hector.
Me!? Masterminding a ring of 2nd-career street-art thieves? I didn’t consider it for more than a second. Maybe two, including the option to steal from the public and sell to the rich; a bizarro universe Robin Hood sort of thing. We could operate globally, hunting down Banksys and selling them to celebrities.
“How about Mona Caron’s Bikeway Mural?” I joke, but they don’t laugh because they can’t see the absurdity of the reference.
“How big is it?” asks Chico, seriously.
“There is no next target.” I say quickly. “We’re breaking up the band, boys. I’m not a criminal.”
Chico looks puzzled. “But you have such a fine criminal mind.”
Hector agrees. “Yes. Don’t sell yourself short.”
I’m flattered, but it’s over.
I fetch the last of my Havana Club Rum and three glasses, and we drink to Sultry Sins and to murals by Amanda Lynn and Lady Mags, to my lost but not forgotten Ella, and to 7-of-9 from Star Trek Voyager. With the last of the rum ends my would-be career as a street art thief.
Eventually Chico reconciled with his wife and returned to blissful retirement. I’m not sure how or if he ever repaid Hector for whatever was owed.
Hector went off to see family in Santa Monica and fell in love with the beach. He spends most of his time there, but comes to the city 4 or 5 times a year. Being professionals, we never talk about past attempts at crime. We do talk about his screenplay, which is being looked at by the Sci-Fi Chanel as a possible mini-series for Colin Farrell.
The fraking criminals who damaged and then destroyed the mural are still at large, committing more crimes just as if they were bankers.
Chico comes by once in a while to watch a movie and drink beer. The other night we watched the original Italian Job, with Michael Caine, which has a comically tragic and disturbing ending.
Of course, I will always deny every detail of this story completely if it ever comes up in police questioning, in court or in polite conversation.