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Deal 1099: Expedition

In another day and age, great plans were afoot and an expedition mounted to a wheat field.

The whole family packed in, kids, dogs, and even the cat. They had miles to go over some of the roughest terrain the region had to offer, followed by more miles of the flattest and least interesting terrain available for miles around.

Then, they had to pick their site with an eye for the weather. Watching the skies, moving a few miles at a time, placing bets on where the clouds would break and the skies would open up. And still leaving enough time to unload and set up, because their mission had a definite deadline. The Sun and Moon take orders from no mortals, after all.

The fallow wheat field was crunchy under foot in the cold winter’s morning. Frost was visible nearly everywhere, as the sun had only just risen. Unpacking was swift, although the dogs and cat chose to supervise from the relative warmth of the car. Which, in all honesty, likely made the process easier.

Crisp winter morning air, patchy blue skies, and no chance of weather more adverse than a stray cloud on the horizon. Circumstances could hardly have been better. The farmer was certainly ignorant of our borrowing his field, but with the crops long since harvested and planting months away, he had little cause for complaint.

The eclipse, for that was indeed the purpose of the trip, was magnificent.

The choice of a wheat field held another unexpected advantage.

Others had paid dearly for lodgings in town, with a group viewing from a parking lot. Their experience of the deepest eclipse was disturbed when all the streetlights came on. No one bothers to light the fields.

A lifetime’s interest in how things work was fanned into flames by that expedition.

Other eclipses followed, but that first one will always be special.

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Deal 1097: Stabbed

The hole was right in the center of the canvas. There was no conceivable way to cover it up, since it took out the face of the central figure. With a single misplaced gesture, Barry had destroyed a priceless work of art.

Let’s step back a few hours.

Barry had been searching for something of value in the old house. It had been his great-grandfather’s legacy. Since then, the family had fallen on hard times, and each generation had raided the house for anything that could be sold. Barry had nothing left but the walls, roof, and the land it stood on.

And a family legend that claimed that the old man had a hidden room somewhere, with a treasure beyond reckoning inside. Of course, like all family legends, it wasn’t exactly a secret within the family, and most of the previous generations had searched the house and grounds. The discovery last year of a crypt on the grounds had renewed the interest in the legend. Unfortunately, all the crypt had contained was the old man. And a few bats. Despite tradition, there was nothing interesting buried with the old man.

But that brought Barry back for one last look.

Where he realized that the sizes of the rooms along the back of the third floor did not match up, and set him to knocking on walls. His calculations showed ten feet unaccounted for. That was certainly large enough to hold something valuable. The most of the third floor rooms had been bedrooms for some of the staff and less welcome guests, but there was a private study at the top of the stairs that was usually kept locked.

True to form, the study door was locked. But Barry had practice at picking the old locks in the house by now, and had it open swiftly. As he had guessed, the room was smaller by enough to suggest that something was hidden behind the walls. He began knocking on all the wainscoting and plaster. He moved the few remaining pictures to look behind and knock. He scoured the bookcases for hidden triggers. He searched the old oak desk, paying close attention to details so as to not miss any false bottoms or short drawers.

His search produced a handful of likely valueless Confederate banknotes, a long-forgotten pair of spectacles with gold wire frames, a large brass letter opener, and a key that didn’t seem to fit any keyhole in the room.

He went back to knocking on the plaster, and finally convinced himself that one area sounded hollow. He picked up the letter opener, and drove it deep into the wall at that likely point. Picking at the hole he made, he was able to clear enough plaster to see into the space behind.

There was a canvas immediately behind the wall, which he had pierced with his initial stab.

Breaking free more plaster, he was able to pull that canvas into the room and see that it had probably been a painting of some naked chick with a large bird, and he had stabbed the chick right between her eyes. He tossed it aside and peered into the space.

Then he saw the steep ladder that led to a hatch in the ceiling. No wonder there hadn’t been any doors on this floor. The treasure was accessed from above, through what must have been a reasonably well concealed hatch in the attic floor.

The rest of the room was nearly empty, except for a single comfortable chair facing what was now a hole in the wall. A lamp provided ample light on the wall.

He began to have a bad feeling about the canvas he had so callously tossed aside, and picked it up again.

It was a simple scene of a nude woman cavorting with a swan. Something about the style bothered him, and he slowly came to realize that it was likely a copy of a masterwork. Or perhaps not a copy, as the age of the canvas and general condition of the painting became clear.

Could this be a lost Da Vinci?

How much is a priceless painting worth after one has stabbed the central figure between the eyes?

What will the art world have to say about Barry if this all comes to light?