click here for previous episode, here to begin at the beginning
williams had just finished trimming the crusts of the last roast beef sandwich for conrad and his two guests, when he heard the front door open. he stopped and listened, then relaxed and proceeded with the sandwiches when he heard cosima's unmistakable authoritative steps approaching.
he was neatly arranging the sandwiches on a china plate with olives and radishes when cosima entered the kitchen.
"good morning, miss."
"these are for mister conrad and his guests. then i will make yours. your guest is not due for another twenty minutes or so, correct?"
"sure, sure. no problem. no rush." cosima took a pack of tareytons out of her pocket and lit one with a match from a box on top of the gleaming white stove. she leaned back against the kitchen counter.
"tell me, williams. did conrad and his friends arrive in a cab?"
"i assume they did, miss. they didn't say otherwise. and i took a quick look at the street outside and there were no private vehicles."
"did you notice a cab on the street, between lexington and park?"
williams thought a moment. "i might have seen one. headed west?"
"there may have been one. a fair way up the street though."
"probably not the cab they came in?"
"i suppose it could have been, if it made a u turn or backed up half a block. " williams was used to curious and apparently pointless questions from all the family. also to their artless prying into each other's affairs.
"hmm. conrad's friends, anyone you recognized?"
"not at all. he introduced them both, i assumed neither had been here before."
"two people?" cosima clearly wanted to know more.
"yes, a young woman and a gentleman."
cosima blew a couple of perfect smoke rings. "and, did they - uh - look like persons that other persons might be following."
"well, as to that i couldn't hazard a guess, miss. the young lady seemed harmless enough - a somewhat out of town type. but the gentleman - "williams shook his head - "the gentleman - rather a forbidding looking fellow. an individual one might hesitate to follow - and not just into the proverbial dark alley."
"not someone to bring home to mother?"
"not to very many mothers." williams placed the finished plate of sandwiches on a silver tray on which a coffee pot and cups and saucers were already arranged.
"well, thanks, williams, you have been very helpful." cosima pushed herself off the counter. "i will go down to the sitting room and wait for my guest to show up."
"and i will bring you your coffee and sandwiches in about twenty-five minutes. "
"yes, do that. we will count on this individual's punctuality."
"what am i doing here," carol wondered, as she stared out the window at east 86th street. not much of a view - other buildings like the one she was in, but none she could see with any lights on. what time was it anyway? conrad and johnny were ignoring her - as they pretty much had on the cab ride - and running on about "regimens" - whatever those were. suddenly she was very tired. very, very tired....
"you are early, mister fortescue. i take it you had no trouble getting here." cosima poured two cups of coffee as fortescue looked around politely at the artworks that adorned the walls of the green room.
"cabs are actually easy to find this time of night."
"yes, they virtually fight for your custom."
"i find myself walking almost everywhere, if i have the time. no better exercise, really, provided you do enough of it."
"yes. you know when i first came here - to the states - i bought a bicycle, and i used that for transport."
"you mean a motorcycle."
"no, a bicycle. that you pedal with your feet."
"oh. and did you have a little rubber horn that went toot-toot-toot?"
"well, there you have it. i realized it made me a figure of fun in these parts - something one can't afford to be in my profession."
"i see. well, speaking of your profession, let's get down to business, shall we? would you like a sandwich first?"
"thank you. i can nibble on one as you tell me what i am here for."
"tell me then, are you conversant at all with the new york art world - i mean, with the artists currently attracting attention?"
"ah - i might recognize some names from press accounts. other than that - "
"you don't patronize the galleries."
"at present i have neither the wherewithal nor the time."
"i understand. i expected no more - anything more would have been a bonus. but have you heard the name pete palomine?"
"oh yes, i have heard the name. more likely, seen the name. from what i have read he seems to have at least as many detractors as admirers "
"yes, he's been called a fraud, a phony, a charlatan - always a good sign."
"and your interest in mister palomine?"
"i am having an exhibit of his paintings at my gallery in a couple of weeks."
"but you are not his agent?"
"let me guess - you are afraid someone might try to steal his paintings at that time."
"yes - in fact, mr palomine has received communications to that effect - anonymous , of course."
"by phone, or by letter?"
"by phone - and by individuals passing him in the street."
"i see. if you don't mind my asking, how well do you know mr palomine. do you consider him a friend?"
"well, of course i have met him on numerous occasions. i don't know that i would call him a friend."
"do you trust him?"
"oh, i don't trust anyone - least of all myself."
"may i speak freely?"
"that is what we are here for."
"i am afraid this all sounds like a hoax - on mr palomine's part, i mean. perhaps to drum up attention. first off - art thieves don't generally target new artists. they tend to go for old masters, but not of the first order. or artists that are no longer considered to be in vogue, but might still command fair prices from the unwary."
cosima smiled. "you sound authoritative. i should have asked you before - do you actually have experience in this area?"
"not so much. but i apprenticed in london under the renowned reg roper, and no one knew more than reg about the art theft game."
"how interesting." cosima took a sip of her coffee. "and might the renowned reg be available for consultation here, do you think?"
"no, reg perished - strictly speaking, disappeared - while on his majesty's service during the recent - now, not so recent - hostilities in europe."
"i am sorry to hear that. please go on."
"yes. well, art thieves - actually thieves of any sort - are not going to advertise their intentions. art thieves in particular count on the carelessness - what might be termed the innocent sense of invulnerability of their intended victims. you see this in even some of the most spectacular and well known thefts."
cosima considered this. "yes," she replied after a pause. "this is all very sensibly put, and i sort of had some of these ideas myself. but, you see, it doesn't take into account the peculiar nature and method of pete palomine's productions. those methods which have caused him to be branded a fake, a poseur, and so forth. methods which have outraged some, and discomfited others. do you know what i am referring to?"
"not really. i vaguely remember something about hypnotism? why don't you fill me in?"