Before, during, and after every violation Jonathan Stone clenched his jaw and thought of her. The toughest times occurred following lights out, when his roommate, all six-foot, five-inches of him, used Stone’s buttocks first immorally, and then as an ashtray to snub out the unending packs of contraband cigarettes. During the entire 20-year sentence he yearned to see her again. When choking down semi-edible food, or during the few minutes outside in the yard he visualized that unique, soft face. It glowed when the light hit it right. No expert, he couldn’t understand its mesmerizing power. Stone had endured the indignity of using a wide-open stainless steel toilet. Day after day, week after week, the debauchery would have broken a lesser man. But, Stone had a goal.
After all of these years, Beauty belonged to him. Her bare back and coquettish over the shoulder look mesmerized him. Stone never researched or cared about who had painted Beauty, but he knew the first time he saw her that he had to have her. Stone remembers the theft as if it had occurred yesterday, not twenty years prior. Beauty was part of a touring art masterpiece exhibition along with the likes of Mona Lisa and Blue Boy. Not nearly as famous or valuable as those iconic paintings, Beauty had appeal, especially to the minimum wage earning Jonathan Stone. While everyone’s attention, including that of the museum’s security, was focused on the world-renowned rarities, Stone lifted Beauty. He wasted no time hiding her. Authorities, already aware of the one-time loser, caught up with him shortly after the heist. However, no one had been able to recover Beauty. Stone never uttered a word or hinted at a clue as to her whereabouts, despite promises of a shortened prison sentence. Over the years, a number of undercover officers who had posed as inmates tried to pry the information from Stone. None succeeded. He’d been a good boy, a model prisoner as they say, putting up with sociopaths, abusive guards, and psychotic inmates. Now, after serving every day of his two-decade sentence, Jonathan Stone became a free man. No dummy, Stone knew that he’d be followed. Did the cops think, after twenty years, that he’d be foolish enough to lead them to Beauty? He had waited twenty years. He could wait another five or so. Stone figured no law enforcement agency would have the funds and/or commitment to watch him twenty-four seven forever.
The Parakeet Motel, a 15-room motel built in the early 1940s, spread along the eastbound side of Metropolitan Parkway. The lodging served as a fine economical family motel through the mid 1980s. Central Causeway’s construction changed everything. Few cars had reason to traverse the parkway and the Parakeet’s business suffered. After the causeway was built, the Parakeet Motel catered to a transient population. Those that patronized the now hourly rate rooms were druggies, prostitutes, drunks, the mentally ill, and the gutter dwellers. The once alternating yellow, green, and powder blue room doors had morphed into a monochromatic mouse-gray and bird shit combination.
With Beauty under his arm, he sauntered away from the museum. Jonathan Stone had no follow-up plan after taking the masterpiece. The door to room number eight was open. He noticed the maid’s wagon, dirty sheets and towels draped across its canvas sides, but saw no one. He entered and lifted a hideous sunflower painting that hung over the bed and replaced it with Beauty. He tossed the worthless flower painting on the side of the road, about seven hours prior to his arrest for larceny.
Confident that he wasn’t being followed, Stone checked into the Parakeet Motel and requested the key to room number eight. He wondered how many guests had seen Beauty and not known its worth. He calculated 20 years times 52 weeks. Figuring 5 guests a week, over 5,000 people had probably seen the stolen painting. With shaking hands, he inserted the old-fashioned key. A Parakeet shaped plastic mold with a chipped beak dangled from the key ring. Stone turned the handle. The stink of twenty-plus years of urine, tobacco, pot, puke, dust, and dead beetles invaded his nostrils. On the wall, Beauty, same as when he had hung her over two decades prior. There was one difference. Some scuz lowlife had used Beauty as an ashtray and dotted her buttocks with cigarette holes.
Bruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type.
Copyright © 2017 Bruce Harris. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.