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First Place: Le Fleur


"Le Fleur" by Dana Choi in First Place. Paint and brushes


Le Fleur

by Dana Choi

First Place


            The cold, black eyes of Amélie DuPont were surprisingly reflective, like Rocco Blevins had sewn glass beads into the very fabric of the canvas when he painted her. Her expression was the same in all five paintings- aloof, mysterious, secretive.

            I sifted through the pile of papers: newspapers detailing a covert art robbery, photographs of five different paintings, police filings and museum documents. Detective Monet wasn’t looking, of course, but I could think of one or two things he was looking at instead.

            Chanel Durand was a shapely woman with a distinctly mouselike face, her blonde hair falling thickly around her shoulders, red lips set in a small pout. She sat across from Monet and I, long legs crossed from beneath her short pencil skirt. I made a point not to look.

             “The paintings are part of a series called Le Fleur. Individually, they’re nothing particularly special, but the complete series is worth half a million dollars.” she said, with a rather charming accent. I appreciated her brevity, especially after half a year of shadowing Detective Monet, who never seemed to run out of things to say.

             “We noticed the first three paintings had been stolen about three weeks ago.”

             “Why wouldn’t you have noticed it right away? They’re rather impressive paintings, I hear.” asked Monet. He was an aging man, his thick grayish-white mustache matched his thick whitish-gray goatee like a pair of ferrets. His voice was like a burning log being moved from a fire, low but clear despite the rain pounding the carriage window.

             “The thieves replaced the paintings with fakes to prevent us from noticing as long as possible.” replied Chanel. “Technically, I’m the art supervisor at The Flâner, but I was an art critic for thirteen years beforehand. I would’ve been able to identify the fakes quicker if only I’d thought to come by. They were near-identical fakes, you know, but to an eye as trained as mine, the difference was glaringly obvious.”

             “Art supervisor. What’s that?” asked Monet, picking at something jammed under his nail.

             “I… I’m responsible for buying and selling installations for the museum.” Chanel, who was clearly very proud of her involvement in uncovering the theft, seemed a little perturbed at Monet’s disinterest. The train carriage was shaking with the force of the storm raging outside.

             “So, you called us here to find the thieves?” I said. “I’m sorry, Miss Durand, but we are detectives. Not cops. We solve mysteries, not chase down thieves. We can’t take this case.”

             “That’s not all,” said Chanel, suddenly solemn. “Like I said, the paintings are worth most as a completed series. I felt certain the thieves would return for the last two paintings, so after making some adjustments to the security system, I hired two guards to watch the museum at night… and, well… in the morning, the paintings were still there, but one of the guards, Pete Archambault, was found shot dead.” Tears welled in her pale blue eyes.

             “Your museum- what was it? The Flyer?” Monet.

             “The Flâner.”

             “Right. You didn’t have guards already?”

             “I never bothered to recruit any- see, we already had a state-of-the-art security system. That’s why I called you two instead of just leaving it to the police- whoever it was that killed Pete and stole those paintings must be smart, if they could get past our tech.”

             “Well,” said Monet, smiling broadly. “How exciting this has turned out to be.”

             “Mister Moreau,” said Chanel, pale cheeks flushing deep red. “Someone has died!”

             “Detective Monet is fine, and my apologies.” said Monet, putting on a sympathetic expression, but I knew the bastard wasn’t sorry at all. “I’m just very passionate about my work. Now, remind me again- your name? Chanel Durby?”

             “Chanel. Chanel Durand.” (Her face was reddening.)

            “May I see the fake paintings?”

             “I already drove them to the dump, where they’ve been flagged for incineration. But don’t worry, the police already combed them for fingerprints.”

             “And?”

             “Nothing.”

             “Ah.”

             “The Flâner is a small museum,” said Chanel. “Le Fleur was the most expensive line of paintings we owned. I called you to see if you could help at all. I know it’s not much to go off of. But…”

            After a pause where neither I nor Monet said anything, she added: “We have very deep pockets.”

            Monet took one of Chanel’s slender hands and brought it to his face, kissing it softly. He met my eyes as he did so.

             “Of course, Madame. Me and Leonard will do our very best."

            Bastard.

           

            Miss Durand’s red car was small, but cozy. Somehow, I knew it was hers as soon as I saw it in the parking lot. Red seemed her color.

            She seemed a little unnerved, but I understood. Monet had that kind of effect on people, even moreso because he hadn’t spoken a word since we left the train. It was only after she ran a stop sign that he finally spoke up.

             “You know, in some parts of the world, women are discouraged from driving,” he said. I cringed internally. Why, you old fart, why? For one of the most renowned detectives in the world, he seemed almost deliberately thick-headed. But he continued.

             “Perhaps a different vehicle would be more suitable for you.”

             “I have been driving this car and only this car my entire life,” replied Chanel, icily. “I think I can manage.”

            We drove the rest of the way to the museum in silence.

           

            I was worried Chanel might not be so cooperative with our investigation after Monet’s remark in the car, but she seemed to have forgotten his slight as she led us through the main entrance of the museum and down a certain corridor.

             “The paintings are right this way.” she said. She had looked taller sitting on the train, but standing behind her now, I could see she was actually a short and rather curvy woman.

             “Thank you for your help.” I said.

             “Yes, yes, thank you very much.” Monet said, at the same time. Clearing his throat, he smiled, and added: “But reguardless, we’d like to take some time to explore the entirety of the museum. On our own.” A pointed look in my direction.

             “Oh… well…” Miss Durand’s expression was confused and a little hurt. “Very well. Go ahead.”

             “I would’ve liked to have her with us,” I remarked, once she was out of earshot.

             “You have much to learn, Leonard.” chortled Monet.

             “Oh, shut up,” I said. “How are we supposed to find our way around now?” But Monet was already gone, disappeared down the hall to observe some big yellow thing sitting at the end of it.

            It was actually a large statue of Buddha- from Ancient China, as I would later discover. It featured a fat golden man sitting with one leg bent and the other down, his hand over his chest.

             “That used to be Pete’s favorite,” said a voice, somewhere to my left. A woman was standing near the wall, smiling. Her eyes were dark and violent and I could sense a latent energy in them, an intellectual force.

            I admit. I was enamored.

             “And who might you be?” I said.

             “I am Aurore Dauvageau,” she said. She had fiery red hair- natural, I think- and deep green eyes. “I don’t believe I’ve seen either of you around here before.”

             “I am Detective Monet, and this is my partner, Leonard. Might I ask you a few questions?” said Monet.

             “You might indeed,” replied Aurore, with a relaxed, amused expression.

             “I believe the museum has been closed on account of the murder. What are you doing here?” Monet said, as he began walking down the corridor, falling into step with her. I hurried to join them.

             “Pete was my brother,” she said, eyes unreadable. “I used to work here, and sometimes Chanel will call me to ask for some help with stocking things in the gift shop and whatnot.”

             “So you were here the night he died?” I asked.

             “That’s right.  I helped him get this job, you know.”

             “Why?”

             “My brother has always had trouble sleeping, so I thought a night job was perfect for him.” she said, quietly. “I thought I was helping him.”

             “Did you see anything suspicious that night?” asked Monet.

             “No.” she said. “I was in the gift shop all night.”

            "What's that you've got?" Monet gestured at a small knapsack she was holding at her side. She handed it to him.

            "It's Pete's things. I came today to collect them."

            I looked over Monet's shoulder as he pawed through the bag: a Yankees baseball cap, a yellow bottle of sleeping pills, some cash, and a penknife. I knew what Monet was frowning at: the cap of the pill bottle was slightly loose.

             “I must ask you one last question,” Monet said, zipping the bag back up. “What kind of person was your brother?”

             “He was… he was a good boy. He was never late, he never lied. He was valedictorian in school, you know, because of how smart he was. Nothing got past him. Nothing!” said Aurore. “I wasn’t anything special, you know… I was always jealous of him, growing up. But we’d been talking more lately. Of course, now…” she trailed off.

             “Not the type to leave a pill bottle cap unscrewed, I suppose.” murmured Monet. “And where are we now?” The three of us had stopped together, in a large jade room.

             “The room where Le Fleur was being held. Where… you know.” Aurore’s green eyes glistened.

            I turned to face the other wall, and found myself looking at the woman with shiny eyes I'd seen in photographs that same morning.

            The paintings were beautiful, and Amelie DuPont’s eyes shone even more brightly in real life. They were also huge, at least ten times my wingspan. Suddenly, a soft snore came from somewhere behind me.

             “Who’s that?” I asked, but Aurore had already left. There were benches bolted to the ground every few rooms, and there was a man slumped over one in the corner. We walked over to him.

             “Excuse me,” said Monet. No response.

             “Hey now, wake up, won’t you?” I said, patting the fellow on the back. Still nothing.

             “HEY!” Monet shouted.

            The man’s head shot up so fast I lurched backwards. He was young and buck-toothed, with shaggy salt-and-pepper hair. A smattering of freckles across his unusually large nose gave him an innocent, boyish sort of look.

             “I am Detective Monet. This is Leonard, detective-in-training.”

            “You were the other guard stationed that night?” I asked.

             “My name’s Kenneth but errbody calls me Ken. Say, that’s a nice hat. It makes you look like a detective!”

             “I should hope so.” I said, stiffly. “But. My question?”

             “Oh yes. Yeah, I was with Pete.”

             “And when was this?”

             “I takes the first shift, from eight P.M. to three A.M. And Pete, he takes the next. He was late that night but eventually he comes to relieve me and I goes home.”

             “Is that all?” Monet says. “Remember, Ken, you have to be a hundred percent truthful with us. If you want to help bring Pete justice.”

             “Well. Well. Well, I guess I falls asleep. I had a wacky dream about blondes. My friend says blondes are all crazy, you know? But it’s not my fault, you know, he was late and ain’t that why we have shifts in the first place? And I was real tired. But it’s all right. Somehow I woke up pretty fast. And then a couple minutes later Pete comes.”

             “Did he say anything? Do anything?”

             “No, not really. Well, he’s a quiet guy, ain’t he? He ain’t like her.”

             “And how do you like working here, my boy?” Monet asked.

             “Oh, I like it. That blonde lady- Cachel, or Cindy, or something- she’s real nice. Always gets me a coffee before my shift, since she knows I get sorta tired. I got to help her move stuff around, you know, move the paintings here and there. I used to work on a farm, so this stuff is much cooler.”

             “You like this job better? You’d do anything to keep it?” Monet asked.

             “Oh, yes! I get to wear this belt, see, with all kinds of things. See, it’s got a flashlight, and some keys, and I even get my own gun.”

             “Where is it?” I asked. His holster was empty.

             “Well… it looks terrible,” said Monet, miserably. “But last night, I lost my gun. Miss Durand is always yellin’ at me and so I didn’t want to tell her. But it’s all right, I found it in my locker.”

             “So why don’t you have it now?” I asked.

             “Well… there was some bullets missing, you know. It looks real bad for me, because Pete got all shot up. I didn’t know what to do. You gotta believe me.”

             “We’ll see, Ken.” said Monet, not unkindly. “If you’ll excuse us.”

            The man slumped back over, and we kept walking.

             “What woke him?” murmured Monet. “He sleeps like a rock. He had only just fallen asleep when he woke up.”

            Suddenly, we heard a loud banging from somewhere down the hall. Monet began running at a speed impressive for his age, and I followed close behind, until we reached a large oak door.

             “Chanel! Chanel, it’s me! Open the door!” said a voice from behind the door.

            Detectveive Money surged forward quickly and threw the door open, allowing a whirlwind of rain and wind to enter. A man stood on the step, wearing a top hat and neat curdouroy suit.

             “Chanel!” he said, and stopped. “Who the hell are you?”

             “My name is Detective Monet,” said Detective Monet, smiling amiably. “Do come in.”

             “I am Renard Jacques,” said the man. He had a dark beard and mustache with several thick whiskers. “I must see Chanel Durand immediately. I have been communicating with her about my aquisition of some paintings for much time.”

             “Is that so,” said Monet. His smile grew.

             “It’s true, gentlemen,” Chanel said, having appeared behind us at some point. “He and I frequently meet when he wants to purchse a new installation.”

             “Yes. I'm interested in buying Le Fleur, the complete set!"

             “But the fake paintings have already been incinerated,” I said, confused.

             “What?” exclaimed Jacques, angrily. “That’s… if you’ve destroyed the only evidence we had of the thieves, how will we catch them?” 

             “Who mentioned anything of murderers?” Monet said.

             “Chanel, we must speak. Privately, please.” said Jacques.

            "I need to use the loo," I said.

           

            Monet was pressed up behind the Buddha statue when I returned, wearing an all too moral face for someone obviously eavesdropping.

             “What the hell are you doing?” I asked.

             “Shh, my good man. Lord above.”

            I would have said something further, but I heard footsteps coming down the corridor. I joined Monet behind the statue, flattening myself against the golden man.

             “And what of the-” (Jacques voice.)

             “It’s gone, I checked. Let’s not talk here. Okay?” (Chanel.)

            Their footsteps continued, down the hall, until they disappeared around the corner. I sighed, stepping away.

             “What’s that?” I asked. There was a small piece of paper stuck in the cleft of the Buddha’s behind. Monet grabbed it with two fingers and handed it to me.

             “You’ll find A.D. in my office.” I read aloud. “Oh. I thought it was some clue. It’s just a note for that redhead, Aurore. Probably meant for Pete or something.”

             “Perhaps.” Monet said, but he tucked it into his breast pocket after I tossed it away. We fell into step as we walked down the corridor towards the sitting room.

             “So, our suspects are: Chanel Durand, the museum’s reigning art expert and critic, Ken Beaumont, the other guard stationed by the painting, Aurore Sauvageau, Pete’s sister, and Renard Jacques, a man hell bent on buying the paintings.” I said. “They were all there the night Pete died. So, how are we going to begin our investigation?”

             “No need,” said Monet. “I’ve already called the cops. They’re coming to arrest the murderer now.”

             “What? Enough jokes, Monet.” I said, irritably.

             “It’s no joke.” he replied, a relaxed, amused expression on his old face. “Really. Don’t tell me you need me to explain it.”

            “Shut up, you arse,” I snapped. “Hurry up and tell me”

            “Well, my boy, let’s review the facts,” said Monet. “Three paintings of a five-installation series go missing. The exact time and date of the robbery is unknown, because the thieves replace the pieces with fakes. It takes Chanel Durand some time before she realizes they are fakes, but once she does, she hires two guards: Ken Beaumont and Pete Ambachault.”

            “So last night, Ken took the first shift, and his gun was stolen from him. Pete is shot dead in the night, after relieving Ken Beaumont from watch duty. The gun is missing bullets from the chamber, so we can be certain it was Ken Beaumont’s weapon that killed Pete Ambachault.” I said. “So what is it that I’m not seeing?”

            “As per usual, you fail to see the obvious.” Monet’s mustache twitches. “We find a note that reads: “AD is in the classroom.” AD does not stand for Aurora Dauvegau. AD stands for Amelie DuPont: the woman in the paintings being targeted by some supposed thieves. The note is a code, telling whoever it was intended for that they would find the stolen paintings in the classroom.”

            “Leonard Jacques came to the museum to continue speaking with Chanel over the acquisition of Le Fleur. No doubt he already knew the first three were missing. So why come? Chanel told me herself the individual paintings were worthless, but together they became valuable. So if Mister Jacques knew the first three were gone, why bother continuing to pursue the last two?”

            “Yet another lie. Jacques did not come to haggle prices of the last two. Chanel has the three 'stolen' paintings in her office- Jacques was meant to pick them up earlier, but the storm prevented him from arriving as planned."

            "But wait, how do you know she was lying about the paintings being stolen?" I asked.

            "Silly boy. Chanel told us she has never driven a car other than that little red Sedan. How, then, did she transport the paintings to the dump?"

            We had reached the sitting room by now, but Monet kept talking. Chanel, Aurore, and Jacques were all there, and they turned, listening.

            “How did the thieves manage to carry away the real painting without triggering any alarms? If neither guard was involved with the plot, how could they have gotten past them? The answer, of course, is simple: they didn’t. There was no fake painting at all. Who was it that claimed a fake? Chanel, of course. She lied and said they were fake, fabricating a story of thieves. And who would question the word of a renowned art critic? Meanwhile, in the morning, she carried away the real painting, claiming she was going to incinerate it- another lie. But the storm prevented her buyer from arriving on time, meaning she had to store the real paintings for safekeeping. Newspapers and the director of the museum found out about the thievery, so to avoid suspicion, she hired guards. And us.”

            “I will bet you,” said Monet. “That if we were to drive to the dump- if it even exists- we will find no paintings and no eyewitnesses who saw Chanel deposit them.”

            “Her buyer, of course, was Renard Jacques. When he arrived, he was looking for Chanel. And when Leonard told him that the fake paintings had been incinerated, he seemed shocked and angry- furious, even. That was because Chanel had told him her plan of passing the real painting as fake, but hadn’t warned him that she would lie to us about taking them to the dump.”

            “Amiele tells me Peter was always punctual. Never late. But had a tendency to get lost. I suspect the man found Chanel’s note, and accidentally stumbled across the room where the missing three paintings were. He overhears Chanel’s phone call with Jacques.

            “Ken receives a coffee from Chanel. It contains a sleeping pill. Chanel steals Ken’s gun. He wakes, but not in time to see her. He says he dreamt of blondes- perhaps he caught a glimpse of Chanel’s rather beautiful hair.” Monet smiles playfully. “Anyway, with Ken’s gun, Chanel shoots Pete and kills him.”

            “If only the damned brat had known what was good for him,” whispered Chanel.

            “The end!” Monet exclaims.

            The whine of a police siren and the slam of a car door could be heard from outside the museum doors.

            “Yes, well, the end. It’s over. Goodbye.” Monet repeats. “They’re coming to arrest you now, Chanel, and you too, Jacques, don’t think I don’t see you sneaking out that door.”

            "So you solved it all on your own." I grunted.

             “I was brought here to find the culprit responsible for stealing a famous painting,” said Monet. “But the painting has not been stolen at all!”

 



Winning pieces are published as received.

 
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Fiction Potluck

October 2023

First Place Winner:


Dana Choi

Dana Choi is a junior at Herricks High School. Writing, ironically, is not one of Dana's hobbies or passions- instead, she likes to play video games or watch television. You can find her Instagram and TikTok under the username "@ch0ige".

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