Chapter 02

The Museum had just been renovated, but there were still works of Picasso that needed to be cleaned and restored, and Mia Robbins had been working on one for weeks now with her coworkers. Mia Robbins was Bella’s art expert alias, or at least one of them, but definitely the most secure.

There was Patricia, a 26-year-old vegan who had gone to a fancy art school in Paris. She had dreads in her hair and her general dressing attire was something Bella didn’t want to be found dead in.

Claudette was one of the older people, mid-forties, her short, curly hair already graying in some areas but one of the nicest people on the team. Warm. Dedicated to her job and dressed accordingly.

Pierre really liked what he was doing. He liked his baguettes and always visited the nearest boulangerie during lunchtime to get his jambon beurre. Bella didn’t like them, because it held more butter than actual ham on the baguette. Sickening.

George was an American expat like Bella, and he seemed to know what he was doing. Always sharply dressed in jeans that were on the tight side and simple shirts. The bit of scruff on his face made it all a perfect picture with his brown hair all neat and always a sparkle in his beautiful blue eyes. His accent had hints of a long-gone Southern accent, likely Missouri. George walked with a slight swagger, and he was overly confident of himself. Always smiling. Always seemingly up to something.

Bella didn’t trust George. He was too… perfect.

She was unable to find anything about George Barrigan online aside from an apartment in his name in Montmartre. Picasso had a studio in Montmartre when he lived in Paris, and even to this day the area was filled with struggling artists, hopeful to be the new Picasso. It was a quaint little village inside the city though. Cobblestones on the roads, a lot of bistros, trees and other green, even a vineyard. Bella had already visited it and the Sacré-Cœur that was the area.

When Bella decided that the day had come to pull off her plan, she grew increasingly fed up with George, as he remained behind too. She had no other choice but to continue her restoration job with him. George seemed to get growingly annoyed by her presence, too.

“We should get something to eat,” George eventually said as he leaned against one of the empty tables, looking at her.

Bella shrugged. “If you’re hungry.”

“I am.”

“It’s okay, you know, we’re working late. I won’t tell if you want to get something to eat. I’m fine. I merely want to finish this area so I can go over it again after the weekend.” Bella smiled at him. “I’m not hungry.”

“Mia, you have to eat something.” George smiled back at her. God, he was gorgeous.

She narrowed her eyes on him. “It’s just you and me in the building at the moment and I feel you want me out of here,” she remarked. “What are you planning on doing? Do I need to call the cops on you?”

George huffed. “What do you take me for? I’m working late, just like you.”

“And while I’m dedicated of finishing today’s work, you’re eager to do something else, aren’t you?”

George moved over to her and removed the soft brush from her hands, brushing her hand with his as he kept his eyes on her. “I’m just saying, we should eat something before we pass out.”

“We could just as well go home,” she stated. She’d return a few hours later, swap out the paintings and be done with it. “After I finish, but you don’t have to wait for me.”

George let out a breath and shook his head. “Workaholic, huh?”

She picked up her brush again and resumed her stance as she turned away from him. “We’ve been working together for the last month and a half, you hadn’t noticed?” Bella retorted playfully. “We’re almost done with this painting. I just want to spend more time with it so we can finish it next week, what’s the harm in that?”

“Well, it’s a Friday night.”

“I have nothing better to do, do you?” She turned around to face him again. “Like… robbing the museum when I’m gone?”

George looked surprised. “What! No! What a stupid idea is that! Honestly, Mia, I’m offended. I love working here, why would I do anything to endanger my job here at the museum?”

Bella shrugged. “Maybe because you don’t look like someone who should work behind the scenes of a museum? Compared with the rest of us, you are far too well dressed. I imagine you’re spending your days off in suits or something.”

“And that’s your only basis?” George laughed, shaking his head. “I just like to dress sharp.”

“And you’re super careful not to get any solutions on your clothes, either,” Bella replied, as she checked him from head to toe with her eyes. “Not a single drop.”

“I’m just not as clumsy as you.”

“Right,” she replied with a sigh. “You’re insufferable,” Bella added as she turned around and started to clean up. “Forget working ahead, you and I are leaving.”

“We?” George scoffed. “No, you go, I’ll finish this,” he reached for one of the pots with brushes in her hands.

“I thought you were hungry.”

His jaw fell open and quickly closed it again as he nodded in agreement. “I said that.”

“That’s where this whole discussion started,” Bella replied as she continued to put away their tools. “Be a dear and put the painting in the vault?” She would definitely come back later. Earlier in the day when Patricia had left, she had swiped Patricia’s access card to the locked doors of the main exhibition area where the painting hung that Bella had recreated.

Girard was visiting family for the weekend thanks to some carefully crafted emails from Bella, and Bella was ready to go to town with her idea. Everything was in place, except for George. George was an obstacle.

Bella made sure that they both left the museum and killed some time by walking around the area for a few hours. Eating something before returning to the museum. She used her tablet to disable the cameras in the building – the fun side of modern day security was that it was so easily hacked if you knew what you were doing – and she disabled the alarms attached to the paintings, before using the back entrance to gain access to the museum.

Much to her surprise, most of the usually locked doors were wide open, and she could have sworn that she and George had locked them all.

Bella took her forgery out of one of the empty lockers, she retrieved her foldable baton out of her bag and made sure she had a pair of scissors in her back pocket. The museum was dark, only the emergency lighting was on, but she could easily find her way as she’d practiced her way over the weeks that she had been at the museum.

Using Patricia’s card to get into the main exhibition area, she froze. George Barrigan was cutting a Picasso from the frame. Her Picasso. “What the actual fuck!” she eventually exclaimed.

George quickly turned around with his flashlight and his eyes widened in surprise upon seeing her. “Mia… it’s not what it looks like…”

Bella nodded as she let out a deep breath. “It’s exactly what it looks like. I’m not fucking surprised. Pick a different painting, I have plans for that one,” she commanded as she walked over to him with the forgery in her hands. “And don’t try anything, I’m armed.”

George smirked as he happily stepped aside, his eyes wide in curiosity. “I didn’t think peg you for an art thief.”

“Because I’m not,” she replied as she cut the wires of the alarm and swapped the portraits out.

“Nor for a forger…” George moved so he could watch her handiwork. “Which you’re not. Your technique is sloppy, do you want to get caught?”

She said nothing as she started to walk back towards the doors. “You’d better follow me out, I will put the alarm back on once I’m gone, and with those wires snipped, people will know,” Bella hinted as she opened the doors and went out the same way she came from.

She heard George letting out a groan, then something ripping and footsteps of him following her. “I don’t want to get caught, but I can explain.”

“No need. We were never here. I will not ask you what you’re going to do with your Picasso, and you’re not going to ask what I’m up to.”

“We’re just two strangers in the night,” George agreed. “You got me curious though.”

Bella let him out the back and made sure she locked the door. “See you around,” she headed towards the car she’d stolen and parked a few streets away. Making sure Barrigan didn’t follow her, she got into the car and drove off to Girard’s residence.

Once parked, she quickly found her way into Girard’s home and hid the painting in the attic. She wiped down the car before abandoning it in front of his house. She completed her mission. As she walked through Paris, she stopped by several bars for a drink to have herself a good alibi and eventually reset the alarms and cameras of the museum.

By 6 am, she stumbled back into the door, reeking of alcohol and the doorman helped her to her apartment, laughing at her and making fun of her in French. Once she was in the safety of her very secure apartment, she hid her tools in a convenient hiding place under the floorboards, took a shower and put her clothes in the washing machine.

She was too pumped to go to sleep. There was no doubt in her mind that the art theft was now known – likely because of the painting George had stolen – and all she had to do was wait a bit before sending an anonymous and untraceable tip to the police that there was another painting stolen but replaced by a forgery and that they could find the painting in Marcel Girard’s home.

The asshole was going down. At least for the next two years. No more hitting women, and he’d likely be too tainted to remain one of the big bosses in charge of the Picasso museum, after all, he stole one of the paintings!

But, until then, she still had a job to go to on Monday as not to raise suspicions.

~o.O.o~

Marcel Girard got taken away by the police after an anonymous tip came in about him swapping one of the Picassos for a forgery and hiding the original in his home and George Barrigan never returned back for work.

How stupid was he?

The investigation that followed had the police search every home of everybody who worked there, and Bella had made sure that before she started to work there that she had an apartment in Mia’s name in Bondy, made sure she visited that often and, Mia was cleared of all wrongdoing.

Uncle Garrett was proud of her, the news of a painting being stolen and one of the museum’s owner stealing another reached the rest of the world, which was maybe a stupid idea, but she’d used an alias that nobody in her family would recognize. Bella was proud of her work; another asshole off the streets.

She liked that feeling so much, that she was going to do that more often. But she had to be more careful.

Bella quit her job after two more months of working for the museum and she was now enjoying the sun in a beautiful 17th century Botanical Garden with a nice cup of coffee and a good book, resetting her brain, relax in a great environment.

“Great weather, isn’t it?”

Bella let out a groan as she looked up to the direction of the voice. “Aren’t you supposed to be elsewhere right now? Enjoying the lovely view on your wall?”

George scoffed as he sat down in the grass next to her. “As if I’m stupid enough to keep it around.”

She closed her book and took a sip of her coffee. “You didn’t show up for work, the police are still looking for you.”

“And if they find me, I’ll have a perfectly good explanation, don’t worry about me, I’ve been doing this for a while,” he laughed, shaking his head.

“Oh yeah? How long?”

“A while,” George replied playfully. “I was saddened to hear that you didn’t keep the item I originally went for, why’s that?”

“Because the boss beat women, and now he’s off the streets for two years,” she replied casually, taking another sip of her coffee.

“But the item! I can’t believe you did that!”

“There’s more to this world than pretty things, and I already have everything I need,” Bella replied with a shrug. “I enjoy the finer things in life, make sure I have the funds to do so, but I do it for the fun, for the rush. This? Was one hell of a rush and I want to do it again someday.”

George hummed. “Perhaps we could do something together?”

Bella barked out a laugh. “Dream on.”

“You have no idea who I am, do you?”

Bella sighed as she put her book in her bag and got to her feet. George was a self-obsessed egomaniac who thought he was the shit. Such a turnoff. “I know that you love yourself a little bit too much,” she winked at him. “Have a good day, George.”

George rose to his feet and smiled brightly at her as he clasped his hands behind him. “Can I invite you for a drink?”

She narrowed her eyes on him. His self-assurance was almost pouring out of his pores, it was sickening. “Some other time, when you’re not pretending to be someone you’re not.”

“Mia, that’s what I do, who I am. What you are. We are always people we’re not.”

“You, maybe. Not me,” she replied, slightly annoyed. “This conversation is over,” she added before heading towards the exit of the Botanical Gardens. She could feel that George was following her out, much like a puppy. “What do you want, George?” she asked tiredly. “I’m not in the mood to play games. I want to enjoy my freedom and have fun.” Bella threw her empty cup in the trash can that they passed. “Alone.”

“I’m bored.”

“Not my problem.”

“Do you know how hard it is to find like minded people? Who don’t speak French? Come on, where are you from?”

“If I tell you, will you then leave?”

“Maybe,” George grinned as he playfully ran his hand through his hair. “I’ll start. I’m from Missouri.”

“Ha! Called it!” Bella punched the air with her fist. “I knew it. You still have a slight accent.”

“I don’t!”

“Yeah…. You do,” she nodded. “I’m from Las Vegas.”

“Nice!”

She shrugged as she stopped walking and turned to him. “Will you leave me alone now?” They were so close to the exit of the gardens, Bella couldn’t wait to disappear into the crowd and to go home. Her balcony was peaceful enough and, despite the 2,1 million Parisians and give or take a million of tourists in Paris, the risk of running into George again would be zero.

“Have one drink with me? One. That’s all I ask.”

“You’re like a child! Oh my god! No!” Bella laughed. “Go make yourself be un-bored.”

“That’s not a word.”

“It is now,” Bella said as she walked through the gates and into the street, silently cursing herself for leaving the garden at the wrong end, this was one of the exits on the Seine, even further away from her own apartment. She’d have to cross the bridge to go to the metro station. Not that it was a crime, because the Seine was beautiful and all, but she wanted to get rid of George quickly, and this was not the way to get rid of him.

Unless she jumped into the water.

But let’s not.

She decided to ignore him as she continued to walk onto the busy bridge. With the sun out, there were a lot of pedestrians on the bridge, and the amount of cars made it congested for them. It was a good thing the bridge wasn’t a fragile looking thing, that was for sure.

They were about half way on the bridge when George pulled her away and started pushing through the crowd while he dragged her along. She could feel a burning sensation in her arm, and was wondering what the hell George was doing. “What are you doing?”

“You’ve been shot, we need to get off the street,” he quickly said, causing her to stumble, stop and look at her arm in shock. “Don’t look, keep running, come on,” George coaxed her. “I’ll get you somewhere safe.”

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