I shifted my stakeout to a more remote location, but again saw nothing nefarious. My third vigil was equally futile. I realized that catching the culprit was a matter of luck with odds similar to those of winning a lottery.
The next morning I was back at the mall, thinking I should switch to decaffeinated, which I detest, when I had a stroke of luck. I saw a man about thirty put a coin into a newspaper box, open it, and smoothly remove all dozen or so copies.
I approached him. “Excuse me, sir. Do you have the time?” I hoped that he wouldn’t notice I was wearing a watch. He tried to look at his wrist and dropped the whole sheaf of papers.
“I’m sorry. Here, let me help you.” As we gathered the scattered papers, I remarked: “You seem to be a great fan of The Sound and the Fury.”
“I buy them for friends.”
“you must have a lot of friends. Let me buy you a coffee.” I didn’t want to end up in a sprint through the mall, a race I knew I would lose.
A few minutes later, we were seated at a table with coffees and the stack of newspapers. In case honesty really is the best policy, I decided to try it. “I’m a private detective and the editor of The Sound and the Fury hired me to find out who is stealing his papers and why. Now I know who, but I’m curious why.”
After a moment, he said: “My name is Vincent Picasso and I’m an aspiring artist, I scrimped and saved for months and finally, two weeks ago, I rented a hall for my first show. I framed my paintings – no small expense – organized my sketches, and put up signs. The night before, I invited a few people, including The Fury’s art critic, to a vernissage.” I knew the word, but I had never heard anyone use it before. I like a person with a large vocabulary.
“The critic wrote that my work had less artistic merit than a kindergarten child’s drawings, and that I should be painting washroom walls.” I remembered the review; it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “hatchet job”.
“Only a few people attended the show and no one bought anything. I was bitter and angry and I wanted to get even with the art critic and the newspaper and its editor. I suppose what I did was petty and ineffective, but I couldn’t think of anything else. Now if you want to turn me over to the police…”
I didn’t. I told Mr. Hearse that I thought the thefts would stop and collected my fee. I gave him no details.
A couple of days later, I was saddened to see signs on lampposts and store bulletin boards:
“Housepainting. Bathrooms a specialty. Call Vince at…”
The newspaper boxes were still around, so I put a coin into one, opened it and took a paper: then I whispered: “This if for you, Vince,” and surreptitiously removed two more and deposited all three in a box for recycled paper.