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Authors: Maxine Barry

Altered Images

BOOK: Altered Images
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ALTERED
IMAGES

ALTERED
IMAGES

Maxine Barry

British
Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

This eBook published by AudioGo Ltd, Bath, 2012.

Published by arrangement with the Author

Epub ISBN 9781471302503

Copyright © Maxine Barry 2001

Maxine Barry has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

All rights reserved

Jacket illustration ©
iStockphoto.com

For
my sister Marion, the true artist of the family.

CHAPTER
ONE

It was early May, and almond and cherry trees competed with ancient wisteria and cheerful laburnums to spread colour and bees along the city of London's Belgravia pavements. A 1968 silver Aston Martin slowed as it approached the discreet entrance to the Greene Gallery. Steered down a narrow side alley, it halted beside a locked steel door, and Lorcan Greene got out, easing his six-foot-two-inch frame from the low bucket seat with a lithe ease that was almost feline.

As he strode briskly but easily to the side door, the afternoon sunshine lovingly touched the dark blonde of his hair, turning it into the colour of ripe wheat. Inside, he sprinted lightly up a few steps and on to the main floor, where four big windows allowed in the bright, natural light. Large groups of extremely comfortable chairs littered the floor space, along with big flowering ferns. Five huge magnificent abstract canvases hung on the pure white walls, attracting the attention of passers-by.

The receptionist, Moira, who was infatuated with her boss, looked up, her eyes softening as she recognised him. ‘Mr Greene. I didn't know you were coming in today,' she purred, surreptitiously patting the back of her chignon.

Lorcan strolled towards her, dressed in a
slate-grey
suit that could only have come from one of the best tailors in Savile Row. His shoes were hand-crafted, black Italian leather, his gold wristwatch Swiss. Green-hazel eyes swept over Moira, noting with approval her well-cut navy blue suit, the neat hair, and discreet pearl stud earrings. The Greene Gallery was known to be a class act, from its address to linen handtowels in the public washrooms.

‘I had a call from Basil Armitage this morning,' Lorcan explained, naming a very rich and well-known patron of the arts. ‘He's coming in for a private viewing,' he checked his wristwatch, ‘in about half an hour, so I think a selection of coffees and aperitifs is called for. All right?'

Moira readily agreed that that would present no problems, and Lorcan turned away, walking through several more hushed rooms, nodding amiably at the smartly-uniformed security guards as he went. Each room was small, temperature-controlled, and had the finest art hung on its walls. As well as human watchdogs, each room was fitted with the latest technological equipment including invisible lasers. Since Lorcan Greene had inherited the rather shabby, slightly run-down gallery from its previous owner, no single work of art had ever been stolen, and he aimed to keep it that way.

He noticed the Duchess of Avonsleigh in the Landscape Gallery avidly inspecting his
newest
acquisition—a small but charming Constable. It had a price tag of 1.3 million pounds sterling on it.

‘Good afternoon your Grace,' he murmured quietly from the arched entrance. The elderly woman quickly turned and smiled at him, her wrinkled face lighting up flirtatiously. She quite liked square-jawed men who had a dashing dimple in the middle of their chins, and also rather admired his high cheekbones, strong, straight nose and fine white teeth. Ah, if only she'd been twenty . . . well . . . thirty years younger.

‘Lorcan, how lovely to see you again. I was just admiring your latest find. How on earth did you manage to get it?' she asked curiously.

Lorcan, accepting the unspoken invitation to dally, stepped smoothly into the quiet room. ‘Ah, now that would be telling,' he teased, his eyes twinkling. ‘Persuasion is such a . . . personal thing, don't you think?'

The Duchess adored being flirted with, but she was also a very astute business woman who ran her husband's vast estates with a hand of iron, and now she regarded Lorcan with a speculative gleam in her eye.

Like everyone else interested in the art world, she knew the story of Lorcan Greene's meteoric rise to fame and riches, for it was romantic and daring, and just the material that modern legends were made of.

He'd gone to work for old Samuel Goldberg
as
a sixteen-year-old school leaver with virtually no qualifications, no social standing, and no idea about art. Nobody understood what had prompted the old man to teach him everything he knew and, since the Goldberg Gallery had been no competition for the top London galleries, nobody had really paid much attention.

But that had quickly began to change, for contrary to all expectations, the young Lorcan Greene, son of an East-End dustman and a barmaid, soaked up the old man's knowledge like a sponge. It took him less than four years to learn the business inside and out, until eventually Samuel entrusted him with the buying of original works, as well as classics.

Lorcan's choice of paintings shook the London art world to its foundations—mainly because they were so innovative, clever, and uncannily spot on. He seemed almost psychic in his abilities to pick out the unknown artists who had ‘it', the artists whose works would only rise in monetary terms. Consequently, it didn't take long for the art-buying public and professional speculators alike to realise that the Goldberg Gallery was now
the
place to buy modern art.

When Samuel Goldberg died, nobody was surprised either by the depth of Lorcan's mourning (for he'd come to love the old man like a grandfather), or by the fact that Samuel left him the entire gallery, lock, stock and
Salvador
Dali.

Lorcan had wasted no time in spending some of his working capital on the gallery itself, renovating it inside and out. He'd hired new staff, embraced the technological age and within two years had succeeded in putting the Gallery firmly on the map. So now nobody was surprised when hotly-pursued pieces found their way on to the walls of the newly-renamed ‘Greene Gallery'.

The Duchess was well aware of Lorcan's reputation as something of a shark at auctions, knowing just the right psychological moment to enter into the bidding and, perhaps even more crucially, when to pull out. He was ruthless in the pursuit of professional private collectors who had pieces to sell, but always played fair, especially with the general public. She also knew that he'd made it a policy very early on always to explain to the unwary and uninitiated the true value of what they had. The result, of course, had been inevitable. In a world of unfair business practices, Lorcan Greene was one of the few art dealers whom people actively sought out when they were selling the odd family piece or two. So it was that the Greene Gallery often had first pickings of the (sometimes breath-taking) new finds.

Such as the Constable the Duchess was admiring now.

Not that Lorcan would ever admit to her
that
he'd acquired the painting by the simple expedient of answering a rather diffident letter from the widow of a merchant seaman, who'd sent him a photograph of the painting. Of course, he hadn't been able to tell much from that, but it had sent a curious tingle down his spine, telling him that it might just be worth the train trip.

And his hunches were seldom wrong.

‘So, how did you come by it,' the Duchess pressed again, but Lorcan merely shrugged his shoulders elegantly and spread his hands wordlessly.

‘Trade secret,' he whispered, then smoothly got down to business.

Not that he seemed to, of course. But he knew that she couldn't really afford the Constable, and she knew that he knew. But there was no embarrassment on either side, which said much for Lorcan's powers of discretion, tact and charm. Instead, very cleverly, he began to steer her towards a cheaper but utterly charming Cezanne, and thus became nearly a quarter-of-a-million pounds richer.

*          *          *

With no classic sports car at his disposal, Detective Inspector Richard Braine, of the Art Fraud Squad, travelled by unmarked police car to Lorcan Greene's Belgravia apartment. For
Lorcan
had a second string to his bow, and one that was relatively well known to his acquaintances and those members of the public interested in art fraud. Namely, Lorcan was a celebrated fake-buster.

The police had first had dealings with him when an unwary faker had attempted to sell him a forged painting, supposedly by Hobbema, the artist famous for his painting of the Avenue at Middelharnis. It had been a very, very good forgery indeed, but it had taken Lorcan only a few minutes to spot it.

Richard had been the officer in charge and, with Lorcan's testimony, the forger got five years. Ever since then, whenever Richard needed an expert opinion, it was to Lorcan Greene that he invariably came.

Greene's reputation as an expert in this field had quickly grown, and now everyone in the trade, whenever in doubt about the provenance or authenticity of a painting that their own experts couldn't agree on, came to Lorcan Greene. His fees were high but, so far, he'd never been proved wrong in his assessment of a work of art.

‘Richard,' Lorcan smiled but glanced very discreetly at his watch, as he opened the apartment door.

‘You're just off out,' Richard Braine said apologetically. ‘Who is it this time? Still the actress?' Lorcan's short-lived affairs, Richard knew, were with women invariably of a
type—independent,
successful, wealthy and sophisticated.

Lorcan laughed. ‘No, she's been lured to Hollywood. Come on in. I've got half an hour to spare.'

The flat was beautiful. The large living area was decorated in cream and pale beige, but a single colourful Manet adorned one of the walls, transforming it. An open window offered a panoramic view of the city. Richard sat in a big black leather armchair, saying nothing as the art expert poured him, without asking, a very fine malt whisky, just how he liked it.

During his time in the squad, the detective knew that he'd picked up more than his fair share of knowledge about art, but he also knew, without rancour, that his expertise was as nothing compared to that of the man he was here to see.

Lorcan possessed an instinctive, almost mystical, sense of what was right, and what was not. It couldn't be taught—only perfected. And it was probably what Samuel Goldberg had spotted in him, all those years ago.

‘So,' Lorcan said softly, sitting opposite his old friend and lazily swirling a deep-coloured burgundy in a large glass. ‘What can I do for you this time?'

Lorcan had, or course, lost his cockney accent a long time ago. Now he not only dressed in style, lived in style, ate, drank and
partied
in style, he
was
style. But Richard also knew him as a man who was warm and generous. Lorcan's parents, for example, now lived very happily in a villa in Portugal. He was, without doubt, the kind of man you could always turn to in times of need.

Lorcan raised an eyebrow in query, and Richard suddenly grinned. ‘If I said Oxford to you, what would come immediately to mind?'

Unfazed, Lorcan shrugged slightly. ‘Dreaming spires. Great University. Some great art. Apart from that . . . ' he shrugged again, and took a sip of the wine.

‘What do you know about the Ruskin?' Richard changed tactics slightly, and Lorcan's green eyes immediately sharpened with interest.

‘The Ruskin School of Drawing and of Fine Art,' Lorcan mused. ‘Located on the High, not far from Magdalen Bridge. It's the University's Fine Art department. Its head is still, I believe, the very splendid and able Stephen Farthing.'

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