“Isn’t the Mona Lisa in Paris?” asked the assistant Hugo had brought with him on his trip to Madrid. His name was Mathieu. He was a good guy… but a tiny bit thick.
“There are different versions of it”, answered Hugo, “the one at the Prado Museum was made by one of Leonardo’s assistants…”
“Well, the one that used to be there anyway” he added, contemplating the empty space left on the wall where the painting used to be.
“The teenage mutant ninja turtle?” asked Mathieu.
Hugo preferred not to answer that and just gave Mathieu a look that he knew meant that he should rather stop talking.
“They didn’t take anything else. Not “Las Meninas” or all the invaluable paintings from Bosch or Goya. Just this one.”
And how they did it was the tricky question. As an internationally renowned detective (and sometimes spy), Hugo had seen a lot of crimes. This one however was a puzzle — they didn’t leave a trace! The alarm didn’t go off, and it was only noticed that the painting was gone when opening the museum at 10am that morning. That was exactly why they called Hugo specially from Milton Keynes. They could not possibly solve this mystery on their own!
It was a that moment, when Hugo was biting his nails (a sure sign that he was thinking very hard) trying to figure it all out, that she arrived.
“What are you doing here!” he cried as Chloé entered the room, dressed as usual like a princess. For many years, they had been rivals, competing for the title of the greatest detective (and spy) in the world. They were solving mysteries after mysteries hoping the other would finally recognise that he or she was the cleverest of all.
“I was already in Madrid, so I volunteered my services” she answered with a wide smile on her face (showing all her teeth).
Hugo was furious! How was he going to concentrate with such a… woman around?
“You have no idea what happened, have you?” she added, nagging him “I have an interview with the director of the museum, maybe you want to come and see how a real pro solves a mystery like this?”
Hugo was desperately trying to ignore her by staring at the wall where the Mona Lisa should have been. The wall was clean — not a trace! You could almost still smell the paint from when it was last renovated. Finally, realising that he was not going to get rid of her, he muttered “Yeah, OK” through his teeth.
The director was a pleasant woman called Marylène, who they met in her office on the third floor. She was not taking this very well…
“I don’t drink coffee” she told them straightaway “but I would definitely need one now if I did.”
Chloé started questioning her: How much was the Mona Lisa worth? How important was it for the museum? What would Marylène give to get it back? Had the press been alerted?
Hugo was getting impatient. Suddenly, he interrupted:
“The security system has alarms and cameras, right?”
“Yes” answered Marylène “of course!”
“So the thief would have had a lot of trouble not only taking the painting, but even more getting it out of the museum, correct?”
“Yes, I bet they did” said Marylène intrigued.
“Well, maybe not…” Hugo replied enigmatically “and it is the only thing they took and left no trace…”
“Hey this is my interview!” interrupted Chloé who was getting red in the face with rage.
“Maybe, but I think I know where the Mona Lisa is, and who did it…”
“Tell us!” cried Marylène to a Hugo who was sporting a triumphant smile. “Come with me!”
They stopped in front of where the Mona Lisa should have been. “So, where has it gone?” asked Marylène, who was getting impatient.
“Nowhere”, he responded.
“Oh, come on, stop being so mysterious, I can’t stand the stress!”
And so, he explained:
“You see, it is much easier to leave the painting where it is than to take it away… Look at this wall, is there nothing suspicious about it? …”
“It looks cleaner than the others — it is fake! The painting is behind it!”
Marylène quickly called for men with tools to join them. They quickly found where the fake wall had been added and removed it: Several pieces of wood painted over. Once removed, they could find the Mona Lisa as predicted, and at that moment , she had a face that seemed to say “here I am!”
“Incredible!” said Marylène “Who was it? And how did you know?”
“I noticed the wall earlier, but I thought it was nothing…. and then, while being upset about Chloé showing up, I thought: How did she know?”
“You had not told anybody that the painting was stolen, you said it yourself earlier.”
“She said she was already in Madrid. I think she came yesterday with the wood panels hidden in her enormous princess dress, waited until it was closing time and everybody was gone, and stuck them over the Mona Lisa with a glue stick disguised as a lipstick.”
“I think she wanted to pretend to have found it after a bit, so she could be the hero, and get everybody to think that she was the best detective.”
“Wow!” exclaimed an impressed Marylène, “She should be arrested… but where is she?… She’s gone…”
“I guess I will have to chase and find her” said Hugo with a grin “but before that, I have another mystery to solve…”
“What is that?” asked Marylène, who had had enough today already.
“Find my assistant Mathieu — I bet he got himself lost again….”
By Mathieu d’Aquin
Images by Thomas Upton, Zona Retiro and jenny818