A mysterious stranger in the art gallery

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The Independent Online

Another outing today for Inspector Keith Braid, the Sixty Second Sleuth, who only takes a minute, maximum, to solve any crime. Don't believe it? Then come along with him in his latest lightning-fast outing, which is called:

Another outing today for Inspector Keith Braid, the Sixty Second Sleuth, who only takes a minute, maximum, to solve any crime. Don't believe it? Then come along with him in his latest lightning-fast outing, which is called:

The Missing Masterpiece

"Inspector Braid?" The speaker was a tall, masterful woman of about 40, but nearer 60, who wore clothes of impeccable cut, ie which were designed to make any male within 20 yards feel inadequate.

"Yes?" said Braid, feeling not at all inadequate.

Braid was one of those few men who took women for what they really were, ie just people. It made crime solving a lot easier, though it didn't help him much when out on dates.

"My name is Rachel Sylvester. I am the director of Tate London."

Braid considered this.

"Tate London? A new film, would that be?"

While the woman looked mildly exasperated, Sergeant Comfort leant across and whispered in Braid's ear.

"Ah!" said Inspector Braid. "Sergeant Comfort here has just explained to me that Tate London is the third great art gallery in the capital after Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Are all art galleries in London called Tate these days?"

"Many of them, sir," said Sergeant Comfort. "There's Tate Direct, and Tate Lite, and Tate-a-Tate ..."

"Thank you, Comfort," said Braid. "So, how may we help you, Miss Sylvester?"

"Well," said Rachel Sylvester. "At the moment we are about to unveil a show to rival Turner, Whistler and Monet."

"That's the great art hit of the season, sir," explained Comfort.

"Thank you again, Comfort."

"It is so far," said Rachel Sylvester, "but our new show might change all that. Our show is based on the paintings of Constable and Sargent."

"Two Army ranks," said Braid, perceptively.

"Exactly," said Rachel Sylvester. "In fact, we have been looking round desperately for a third painter whose name is also a military rank to make up a trio of painters."

"And did you find one?"

"Yes. We are now putting on a show called Constable, Sargent and Piper."

"Nice one," said Inspector Braid. "But why enlist my aid?"

"Because," said Rachel Sylvester, "when we were putting the final touches to the show last night, we found that ..."

"Don't tell me," said Inspector Braid cynically. "You found that the major picture in the show had gone missing. That is what inevitably happens."

"Not at all," said Rachel Sylvester. "We found that there was one extra picture. Far from there being one missing, we have one too many! Last night the curator of the show discovered that there was a picture on the walls he had never seen before. Someone had actually sneaked in and put one up along with our loans!"

Inspector Braid thought for a moment.

"Was it a portrait?" he said.

"No, a landscape. A forest scene."

Braid rummaged in a drawer, then pulled a photograph out.

"Was it this landscape, by any chance?"

She looked. She gasped. She nodded.

"How on earth ...?"

Inspector Braid pointed to the drawer.

"At any one time there are many major works missing. Some of them are very big, far too big to hide easily. But art thieves have increasingly started keeping their stolen works of art in the one place they won't look conspicuous - in an art gallery. Several times recently we have discovered stolen paintings which have been sneaked into big municipal collections and left peacefully hanging there, unnoticed. All part of the furniture. Nobody gives them a second glance. In your case, however, the thieves made the mistake of putting the painting in a temporary exhibition. Probably didn't realise it. When they do, they'll come back for it. We'll be waiting for them. Arrange it, could you, Comfort?"

And Braid returned to his paperwork, as a sign that the interview was over.

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