A satirical mystery
British detective John Graham was supposedly doing his best to solve this case. Thirty years of experience were under his taut belt, but he had never encountered anything as spectacularly grandiose as this. The Mona Lisa, stolen! Had it been any other painting, Graham wouldn’t be surprised at all; in fact, he probably would have been bored. But the Mona Lisa was the most famous painting in all the world, painted centuries ago by a man whose name escaped Graham at the moment but who must have been one of the greatest minds ever to live. It’s sly humor and mysterious subject led it on a path to worldwide recognition, but now…now it was gone. In its place was a bare wall framed by the brackets upon which the painting had hung. Its emptiness mocked Graham.
“By George, Bentley,” Graham exclaimed to his stout, bushy-browed assistant who was busy inspecting the crime scene. “I am utterly perplexed! At noon on the day of the twelfth of September, this painting hung on this wall, protected by a glass pane and viewed by hundreds of people. At ten minutes past midday, the painting and glass pane were gone. It seems as if this caper, quite like you, is of grand proportions!”
Bentley peered up from his magnifying glass and gave Graham a hurt stare through his spectacles, the twin caterpillars situated on his forehead slouching in woe. “I beg your pardon, Sir Graham? I hope you don’t mean to imply that I’m stout!”
Graham had a quiet chuckle with himself and pretended to ignore Bentley’s rebuttal. As Graham finished up his personal bout of laughter, the rotund, besweatered Bentley noticed something. It seemed to be a piece of cheese of some sort, lying on the ground beneath the Mona Lisa’s former resting place. “Sir, look at that piece of cheese, on the ground. Isn’t that - ”
Bentley was cut off. “Oh, how peculiar!” Graham remarked loudly, putting his nose to the newly found evidence and inhaling. “I seem to have found a piece of …mozzarella cheese. How very peculiar, indeed. Bentley, take this to the lab and have it analyzed. And make haste, O Stout One, as there isn’t time to waste! The Mona Lisa could be making its way to Austria-Hungary at this point! “
Back from the lab, Bentley approached Graham, who was sitting in his hotel room, stroking his thick black moustache and reading an equally thick leather-bound edition of Jean-Christophe.
“Graham, Sir, I’m back from the lab, and the evidence has been fully analyzed. Using our vast array of criminological technology, by which I mean my magnifying glass, I can strongly confirm that the evidence is indeed mozzarella cheese. What’s more, I found a thing layer of dust on the cheese. And it wasn’t just any dust. It was coal dust.”
Graham looked up from his book, perplexed. “What could coal dust be doing on a piece of cheese? Or for that matter, on a piece of cheese in the Louvre? The nearest place where coal could be found is the train station on Rue de Bourbon Le Chateau! Good heavens, Bentley! Get to the rue, you roustabout,” Graham shouted, sticking his sizeable nose back into his book in mild apathy, “And don’t come back until you’ve done it! Do you think I hired you so that I could do work? Bah!”
Bentley slouched his low shoulders and walked out of the hotel room in an act of reluctant defeat. He was just an assistant to the great Scotland Yard detective, and he deserved no pity or good will from his superior.
As Graham sat in his warm hotel room wrapped in a book, Bentley took the Chemin de Fer Métropolitain to Rue de Bourbon Le Chateau, where he walked to the locomotive station down the block. Once there, he walked into the office of the station agent and rang a silver bell with his pudgy finger. No one came running out of the back room to help him, so he called out “Monsieur, monsieur! Sil vous plait!” After a minute or so, a liver-spotted old man hobbled out of the backroom with papers in his hand.
“Oui?” the old man asked in disregard for Graham’s Britishness.
“Bonsuir, Monsieur. I am here in representation of Scotland Yard. I am here to inquire about your employees.”
“Scotland Yard?” the wrinkled old man gasped out in heavily accented English. “What is your business sticking your nose around Paris like this?”
“We’ve been asked to help by the Paris police department. Apparently they’d read much about the work of Sir Graham and insisted on having him sent to Paris immediately.”
“Do you mean to say that you’re not Sir Graham, monsieur?”
“No, sir. I’m his assistant, Bentley. I - ”
“What a disappointment!” the Parisian croaked. “I’ve read much about M. Graham. I hear he is quite a detective. He works quite hard at his job.”
“Yes, I suppose he does,” Bentley answered, thinking about Sir Graham sitting comfortably in his hotel reading his literature while Bentley was out and about investigating. Bentley shuddered with disdain.
“The reason I’m here, monsieur, is because the Mona Lisa has been stolen. We have found evidence with coal dust on it, and the only place around the Louvre that uses coal is at this here station. May I inquire to see a list of all of the employees working in the engine room of any train that entered or exited this station between noon and one o’clock in the afternoon of the twelfth of September? It is imperative to our investigation.”
“Oui, Monsieur. Let me check in our database.” The old man leafed through a series of folders and pulled out a worn piece of paper. “Here it is. Do give M. Graham my regards.”
“Of course, sir. Of course.”
Graham looked up from his novel and thought about the case. What was mozzarella cheese doing beneath the former spot of the Mona Lisa? He thought. …I haven’t the foggiest.
Bentley politely knocked on the hotel door. Graham looked through the keyhole and, seeing that it was the little teacup Bentley, reluctantly opened the door. “What is it, Bentley? I’m trying to read! Don’t you know that a man such as I can’t have his time wasted by fools such as you? I’m a busy man!”
“Sir, I went to the train station and got the list of employees who would have been at the station within the hours that the Mona Lisa was stolen. Here it is.” Bentley handed the wrinkled paper to Graham. “What do you think?”
“By George, Bentley, do some thinking yourself! This is a list of names. What could I infer from a list of names?”
“Well, you are a detective, sir, so I suppose inferring is part of your - ”
Bentley was cut off. “Get out of my hotel room, Bentley! I don’t need your nonsense at this hour! I’m just to the part where Krafft’s concerto is being derided by the public. I must say though, it’s quite a bore so far.”
“But sir! Jean-Christophe is one of the greatest examples of the roman fleuve ever created! It’s a work of pure genius! Can’t you just feel the anguish that Krafft feels in Antoinette as he realizes that he will never be recognized for his great accomplishments?”
Graham slammed the hotel door, narrowly missing Bentley’s face.
Walking back to his two-star hotel in the dark Parisian night, Bentley thought intensively about the missing Mona Lisa. The mozzarella…the coal dust…what does it all add up to? The thief must be a worker on a train…but of all the people on this list, how do I know which man it is? Bentley peered at the paper by the light of a streetlight, running his index finger down the list of names. Allain…Allaire…Andretti…Arsenault. There must be something here!
As Bentley continued to walk down the boulevard, the smell of oven-baked pizza wafted through the air from a pizzeria across the street. Pizza! Bentley thought to himself. That’s it! Pizza has mozzarella on it! Only an Italian would eat pizza in a city like Paris. Andretti! An Italian name! Bentley ran the rest of the way to his hotel, repeating the name over and over again in his head. Huff huff huff huff Andretti huff huff puff Andretti, Andretti, Andretti.
Once at his hotel, Bentley telephoned Graham. “Sir, sir, I have deduced who our suspect must be! His last name is Andretti! I know this because - ”
Bentley was cut off. “By Jove, Bentley! Do you know what hour of the night it is? I was just about to finish this chapter and then settle down for a nappy nap! It takes a lot of sleep to be a great detective like myself.”
“Sir, you just misused a reflexive pronoun. What I think you meant to say was –“
Bentley was cut off once more. “For the last time, Bentley! Keep your intellectual philandering to yourself! I’m off to bed. Ciao.”
Bentley heard a click and hung up the phone. Did he just say, “intellectual philandering? Shrugging it off, Bentley got into his bed and turned the flickering light bulb off, clutching the list of names to his chest. Across the city, Graham sucked his thumb and thought about how great automobiles are.
In the morning, as Graham continued to sleep, Bentley awoke and trudged down to the train station. As he arrived, Bentley saw the wrinkly station agent shuffling through train records. At the sound of his footsteps, the man looked up. “Oh, it’s you again! Where is the great Sir Graham?”
“He’s busying himself with tasks of a torporific nature.”
“I have no idea what you mean. What is it you are here for today, Monsieur…”
“Bentley. M. Bentley. I’m here to inquire the whereabouts of an employee…M. Andretti?”
“Ah, yes. His train just arrived a few minutes ago. You should see it right to your left.”
To the left of Bentley was a large train, resting after hours of chugging along the tracks. Bentley walked up to the engine room and looked about. One man stood by an engine, wiping his brow. Bentley called to him.
“Are you…Arturo Andretti?”
“Yes-ah sir.” The man replied, taking his gloves off. “Why-ah do you ask-ah?”
“You see, sir…you are a suspect in the case of - ”
Bentley cut himself off. To the left of Andretti, behind a piece of machinery, leaned a pane of glass and what appeared to be the edge of a frame. Bentley approached the machinery and grabbed the frame. The frame bordered a familiar, smiling face. The Mona Lisa.
“You are a suspect in the case of the missing Mona Lisa. And you are now - ”
Bentley was cut off as Graham walked into the room. “What in God’s name are you doing, Bentley? I know exactly who the suspect his! His name is Louis Garmand and – good heavens!” Graham looked in horror at the painting in Bentley’s hand. “You stole the Mona Lisa!”
“No, you see, sir…it was this man. You see, I first noticed that the mozzarella indicated that - ”
Bentley was cut off. “Gendarmes, come quick! I’ve found the thief! It is my own assistant, Bentley! Although we were in London at the time of the theft, he somehow managed to get to Paris, steal the Mona Lisa, and then come back, whereupon we were informed of the theft as we sat in my office! And…all along, it was him. My stout bespectacled assistant. Who would have thought? Who…but I, that is. I…knew all along.”
Bentley stammered. “You must be joking…I was just apprehending this man when…I…are you mad?” Bentley knew full well that Andretti was the thief. At this point, Andretti looked rather confused, but in a relieved sort of way.
Just as Bentley was stammering, a group of gendarmes ran up to the train and surrounded him. Handcuffs were placed around his wrists. “But…I did all of the work…I solved the mystery! This man did it! I deduced through logic and creative reasoning that Andretti was - ”
As he struggled to explain himself in a stammering speech, Bentley was cut off one last time, with a billy club to the back of the head. As he landed hard on the train floor, Bentley watched Graham shaking hands with the Gendarmes. “Ah, splendide!” one of them cheered. “Another case solved by the great Sir Graham!”