Kingman had met his wife, Dianne, during his 1980 spring training in Phoenix. One of her relatives worked for a check-cashing company that had currency exchanges in several western states, and Kingman went to work for that company in 1985. He became a quality control supervisor for its California and Arizona stores and bought enough stock to become part owner. Then in 1991, after being passed over for promotion and a subsequent raise, he lost his judgment and decided to get even with the owners.

While on his regular inspection route, Kingman planted phony check-cashing histories in the San Francisco and Phoenix branches of the company, then sent an accomplice--another disgruntled employee--to pass more than $100,000 worth of bad checks. They were caught and convicted in mid-1992. Kingman was ordered to pay restitution and to serve seven and a half years of probation.

His assets were wiped out, but he eked out a mortgage payment delivering newspapers and managing a Circle K store.

As if things weren't bad enough, the pitcher was about to be framed.

Joaqu°n Alvarez Montes, a Spanish nobleman who bears the title of Viscount of Miralcazar, inherited the painting called "La Mujer" from his father, who, the viscount says, had bought it, along with another painting of a woman, from Pablo Picasso himself. The father had allegedly helped one of Picasso's relatives escape the fascist regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco during the 1930s. Picasso was not so grateful that he gave the paintings as tokens of his gratitude; instead, he sold them at fire-sale prices. It's a touching story, even if it has become a clichā of the art world.

"You'd be amazed how many fakes have the same story," Picasso expert John Richardson told the New York Observer. "We did Picasso a favor.' . . . It's all bullshit."
When the first reports of the theft hit the New York tabloids in 1983, the painting was thought to be worth millions of dollars and Alvarez had been promoted to Marquis of Mon Real, a misidentification that has stuck to every written account in the 11 years since. That title, in fact, belonged to one of his great-grandfathers and was passed down to a cousin.

Alvarez holds the lesser title of viscount, which he inherited from another great-grandfather who was granted the distinction in 1670 by the King of Spain.

But neither title bestows any privileges on Alvarez other than to mark him as old money. And if they conjure up images of a man in silk knickers and a powdered wig, in reality, Alvarez lives the more mundane life of a designer and architect of government buildings. Still, his Madrid apartment is sumptuous enough to have been photographed for Architectural Digest in an article that touted his extensive art collection. And because he spent much of his youth in the United States and attended the University of Chicago, he kept a home in Palm Beach and a New York condominium apartment in the oh-so-tony Galleria building at 57th Street and Park Avenue.

In 1983, the apartment was up for sale because it was no longer worth the trouble of keeping it. The maintenance cost was prohibitive, and even if the building had a 24-hour security service, televisions and other valuables were regularly disappearing from Alvarez's apartment, as if someone with a pass key were helping himself.

The Picasso painting was the centerpiece of the living room; it depicted a primitive portrait of a wide-eyed woman, stiff and huddled on one side of a harlequin patchwork of blues and browns. In the 1950s, Alvarez's father had commissioned a copy of the painting from a French artist. Given the security problems in the building, and the high cost of insuring artworks, Alvarez hung the copy on the wall and put the original in a Swiss bank vault.

Among the people who came to inspect the condo for sale was a man who dressed as if he were a Greek Orthodox priest. The priest returned again and again to see the property, and attempted to befriend the viscount. He was most interested in the artwork.

"It was a little too insistent," Alvarez remembers, speaking by telephone from his home in Spain. "I started to get nervous about that, and I mentioned to him that all of the artwork was connected with contact switches to the alarm system--which, in fact, they were not."
The theft resembled a script from the 1960s TV series It Takes a Thief, in which Robert Wagner played a suave and sexy international cat burglar of exaggerated talents. Sometime between December 13 and 19, 1983, burglars hid in a tiny electrical closet next to Alvarez's apartment and bored a hole through 14 inches of reinforced concrete behind the medicine chest in the apartment's guest bathroom. Then they slithered through a remarkably tiny hole, found their way through the dark apartment (the electricity was turned off because the viscount was in Spain), and sliced the painting right out of its frame.

"The people who did it or had it done must have known what they were looking for," says Alvarez, "because there were other things in the apartment that were as valuable as the original painting was." On the same walls, Alvarez maintains, were two original pencil drawings by Salvador Dali and a pastel by Renoir.

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