Authors: Reba White Williams
“There’s a major new presence on the crime scene…Reba White Williams.
will strike a big hit with sophisticated readers who love culture, uncommon criminals, and terrific writing. You won’t be able to put this book down!”
– Alexandra Penney,
New York Times
“Savvy, saucy, and scary – a worthy debut from a writer who bears watching.”
– Jacquelyn Mitchard,
New York Times
“A tight, tricky plot that takes you on a breathless romp through the world of fine art prints. Captivating characters and a highly energetic plot – art smart and highly literate – I loved it!”
– Laura Childs,
New York Times
“A fast-paced tale of nefarious dealings in New York’s art world.”
– Thomas H. Cook, Edgar Award-winning author
“A captivating debut,
puts on display the international world of fine art. Reba White Williams has crafted an ambitious, fascinating and textured puzzler, rife with suspects and red herrings. A polished gem of a read. Bring on the next Coleman and Dinah Greene mystery!”
– Julia Spencer-Fleming,
New York Times
“Starts out with a bang and keeps you riveted! A first rate debut!”
– Steve Berry,
New York Times
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
The Story Plant
Studio Digital CT, LLC
PO Box 4331
Stamford, CT 06907
Copyright © 2013 by Reba White Williams
Jacket design by Barbara Aronica-Buck
Print ISBN-13: 978-1-61188-127-1
E-book ISBN-13: 978-1-61188-128-8
All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by US Copyright Law. For information, address The Story Plant.
First Story Plant printing: April 2014
Printed in the United States of America
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to hit again.
, a fine art print made later than the first edition, usually inferior, and often made after the artist’s death.
Nora Timothy sat up, her heart racing.
Something had frightened her. There! Bangs, crashes. A shriek, cut off. That was the sound that had woken her.
Mrs. Timothy was eighty-four and a widow. She read the newspapers and knew what could happen to old ladies who lived alone. She lay down, holding her breath, trying not to make the bed creak or the sheets rustle. Twice she reached for the telephone; twice she pulled back. What if they heard her calling for help? The walls were thin and the door was flimsy.
The crashes grew louder. Surely someone in the building would call the police.
She pulled the quilt over her head, closed her eyes, and prayed for the boy across the hall, and for the Blessed Lord to protect her. The church clock struck one and she heard the shriek again. She folded the pillow around her head to shut out the sound. Someone would call the police, she was sure of it.
Bethany turned on her bedside light, looked at the clock, and groaned. She rolled out of the narrow bed and slipped her faded cotton flannel robe over her naked body. Her toes curled with the shock of the icy linoleum. She ran to the kitchen and switched on the electric kettle. More and more lately she fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow, only to wake a few hours later. Her mind searched for problems to worry over, and not until six or seven or even eight in the morning would sleep return. Sometimes a cup of Sleepytime tea helped.
She pulled the blanket off the bed and settled in the big stuffed chair by the window, wrapping the blanket around her. The radiators wouldn’t produce heat again until six when their clanging would wake her if she was lucky enough to be asleep.
Bethany read anything she could find on insomnia, and she’d tried every remedy she’d ever heard of. She knew not to lie in bed fretting; it was best to get up and read something boring. She was working her way through the New York Public Library’s career guide section. She’d soon be looking for work, and if she couldn’t find another job in the art world, she’d have to find one somewhere else.
When the kettle whistled, she made her tea, staring down at the empty street two floors below. The only sign of life was a skinny gray cat slinking around the garbage cans near the streetlight.
She was watching the cat, feeling sorry for the miserable creature, when a figure turned the corner off Seventh Avenue and strode west on Charles Street. Who would be out at—she glanced at the clock again—2:20? The figure had a dark beard and wore whites—probably a doctor from the clinic on Sixth Avenue. He wore a raincoat and a knit hat pulled down low, and carried a doctor’s bag in his gloved hand. Strange combination—a coat too light for this clear and crisp October night, and a woolly hat and gloves, more suitable for January. He disappeared into a tenement across the street. A house call? Maybe he lived there. She picked up her notebook and made a note of the doctor’s arrival time, just as instructed in
Everything You Need to Know About Being a Detective
; the best career guide she’d read, although still tedious. So far, it was not sleep-making.
She glanced longingly at P. D. James’s
Death Comes to Pemberley
lying on her bedside table. Jane Austen was a favorite writer, and she loved “After Jane” books, especially when written by such a talented writer. But she knew better than to read anything exciting. Maybe when she finished the latest how-to she’d get a job as a detective, like Kinsey Millhone. Or maybe she could become a bounty hunter like Stephanie Plum. Yeah, right. Z was for zero chance.
Movement in the street again caught her eye; the doctor was walking east. If he’d made a house call, it was a quick one; it was only 2:40. She noted his departure time and returned to the book.
Oh, misery, Bethany thought. Time passes slowly when you’re awake and nearly everyone in New York is asleep.
Mrs. Timothy woke at her usual time. She remembered the commotion in apartment 3B, but with the arrival of a new day, the noises she’d heard didn’t seem so alarming. She listened, cocking her head towards the door. Silence, thanks be to Heaven.
She pushed her feet into fuzzy slippers and pulled on her navy wool robe. She lit the gas burner under the percolator and shuffled into the bathroom. When she’d washed the sleep from her eyes, she pressed her ear against the hall door. Not a sound.
She opened the door a crack and peered out. The hall was empty, but the boy’s door was ajar.
Oh dear, he wouldn’t want someone to walk in. He’d given her his number in case of an emergency; she’d call him. She let the telephone ring ten times, but nobody answered. He must be out, or asleep. With that door open, if he hadn’t been robbed already, he soon would be. Greenwich Village wasn’t as safe as it used to be.
She poured coffee into her yellow mug decorated with smiley faces, and added milk and sugar. After a few sips for strength, she locked the door behind her and crossed the hall to 3B.
Just inside the entry was a life-size photograph of the boy, looking like a laughing angel, his fair hair blowing in a heavenly breeze. He’d told her he’d modeled for photographers. This must be one of the pictures. Such a lovely boy.
She frowned at the mess: chairs turned over, one broken. That’s what she’d heard last night—a wild party. Maybe too much to drink. Avoiding the shards of broken glass, she tiptoed to the bedroom: if the boy was sleeping, she didn’t want to startle him.
At first, she couldn’t make sense of what she saw. She closed her eyes and shook her head to clear it. But when she looked again, nothing had changed. The white walls were splashed with red.
She stared at the body on the bed. The boy’s beautiful blond hair was red with blood. She screamed. Even when people surrounded her, even when somebody put his arm around her, she couldn’t stop screaming.
Coleman Greene paused just inside the entrance to Killington’s auction room to look at a group nearby. The central figure, a dark-haired fortyish man, was only a few inches over five feet tall—about Coleman’s height in the three-inch heels she always wore—but like Napoleon, he exuded power. This had to be Heyward Bain, the man she wanted to meet. He was flanked by an enormous hulk—probably a bodyguard—and a voluptuous redhead in a pink Chanel suit, dripping gold chains.
Coleman stared at him as long as she felt she decently could, memorizing his tanned face. She was close enough to see that his eyes were a light gray, and his black eyelashes were so long they looked false. She’d have liked to speak to him, but there wasn’t time. The auction was about to begin.
She was looking around for an empty seat when her cousin Dinah touched her arm. “I saved you a seat down front—all that was left when I got here,” Dinah said.
“Before we sit down, check out the trio to my left,” Coleman said in a low voice.
Dinah’s blue eyes widened. “Who are they? I’ve never seen them before. I’d remember.”
Coleman nodded. “Anyone would—they’re definitely distinctive. They’re new in town. Debbi Diamondstein called me late last night to tell me that Heyward Bain has come to New York to open a print museum; she said he’d be here and I should introduce myself. She’s handling his press, and she wants me to interview him for
Dinah was still staring. “A print museum!”
It figured that Dinah, newly married and a print dealer, would be more interested in Bain’s plans for a museum than his looks or his fortune. Coleman, on the other hand, was thrilled to see a handsome new bachelor in town.
“Is he here to buy? Or is he just sightseeing?” Dinah asked.
Coleman shrugged. She was scanning the room for celebrities to mention in her article, but Bain was still on her mind. “Who knows? If he buys, I’m sure he’ll have someone bid for him like all the other big-deal collectors.”
Dinah was still staring at Bain and his entourage. “Who’s the redheaded woman?”
“It must be his assistant,” Coleman said. “Debbi told me her name—Ellen Carswell. She’s expensively dressed—that outfit costs thousands, and her jewelry looks real. I wonder if she’s more than an assistant? I’d hate to learn that Bain was already spoken for.”
At ten o’clock, Killington’s top auctioneer, a tall brunette in a trim black pantsuit, stepped into place at the podium. She’d move the auction along rapidly, with one lot sold every forty seconds. A lot might include only one print, or several. If all went well, two hundred lots of about three hundred prints would have been sold shortly after noon. Coleman planned to stay till the end of the auction, or until she saw Bain leaving. She could get the auction details from Dinah. Bain was the news.
She craned her neck for another look around. The room was packed with dealers, collectors, artists, art press, and an unusual number of spectators—who, unlike those who planned to bid, didn’t have paddles—and it buzzed. The crowd looked expensive—designer clothes, coiffed hair, even furs, unnecessary on this beautiful October morning. The room even smelled rich: perfume, a hint of tobacco, and the odor of new leather.
Killington’s, the largest and grandest of the auction houses that had opened in the years since the price-fixing scandal at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, was holding its first auction of the season. After more than a month of pre-opening festivities—benefits for the New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Central Park Conservancy—Killington’s was launching its autumn season with a print auction.
A surprising choice. Prints weren’t as glamorous as many other art objects. Nevertheless, Killington’s had rounded up some outstanding works and attracted a stellar crowd.
But if not for Heyward Bain, Coleman wouldn’t have covered the auction; she’d have sent one of the writers. Since she’d bought
three years ago, she wrote only a monthly column and a few important articles a year. Bain was her kind of story.
Still, since she was there, she would pay attention to the auction. Of the many interesting and unusual works on sale, the biggest draw was a rare print by Winslow Homer,
, from about 1890. Homer had used the image several times—a long-skirted girl on ice skates holding a muff and smiling flirtatiously at the viewer—but no one had ever seen this print. The ice in the print glistened in sunlight, an effect achieved with flecks of white ink or paint—added, according to the experts, by Homer himself, greatly increasing the print’s value.
The crowd held its breath as the bidding soared swiftly past the high estimate of $150,000.
sold for an astonishing $500,000. Coleman strained with everyone else to spot the person with the winning bid, paddle number 132.
“Who’s he? I don’t seem to know a soul today,” Dinah said, watching the tall, slightly stooped man in a modish English-cut suit stroll toward the back of the room.
“Simon Fanshawe-Davies. He’s an Old Master paintings dealer, works for the Ransome Gallery in London. Look, he’s talking to Heyward Bain—he must have been bidding for him. Why else would an Old Master dealer buy an American print?”
Dinah shook her head. “I haven’t a clue. I’ve never heard of him, let alone seen him at a print auction. Usually when a collector asks somebody to bid for a print, he chooses someone who knows something about them. If I were a collector instead of a dealer in not-very-expensive American prints, I’d have asked David Tunick to bid for me. I’ve heard he even handled a Homer with that same type of enhancement.”
“I agree, he’d have been the logical choice. Maybe Bain and Fanshawe-Davies are friends. I’ll find out. I’m going to interview them both. I’ll call you later.”
But by the time Coleman forced her way through the crowd to the back of the room, Bain and his companions had disappeared. She wandered around looking for boldface names, but a number of bidders and most of the sightseers had left after the Homer sale. She couldn’t spot a single celebrity.
Maybe she could find a Killington’s source who would tell her something about
’s provenance. The auction catalog contained almost nothing about the print’s history, not even the identity of the seller, usually a matter of public record when the object was rare and expensive.
Coleman glimpsed the lanky figure of an old friend, Zeke Tolmach, across the room and waved. She’d have enjoyed a chat with Zeke, but she’d spotted a bespectacled junior assistant in Killington’s public relations department. He’d been known to spill secrets when he’d worked at Brown’s Auction House in Dallas. Maybe he’d be as indiscreet today.
Nearly two hours later, Coleman abandoned the exhausted young man in the Third Avenue luncheonette where she’d plied him with coffee and doughnuts. After a lot of coaxing and some not-so-gentle bullying, he’d revealed the name and telephone number of the seller of
—Jimmy La Grange, a small-time dealer she’d never heard of. Odd. Anyone with the money to acquire art that valuable should be in her Rolodex.
Back in her office, she tried the number, but La Grange’s answering machine picked up. She left a message, but she’d also try again later. Persistence might be required to get this guy to talk. How had an unknown dealer acquired such a valuable print? La Grange had some explaining to do.
Meanwhile, she needed to interview Simon Fanshawe-Davies and Bain. Coleman decided to ask Debbi to set up meetings with both of them. Debbi would do all she could; she was
press agent as well as Bain’s. She was also one of Coleman’s best friends.
Fifteen minutes later, she had a dinner date Wednesday evening with Bain, and breakfast with Simon Wednesday morning before the Grendle’s auction. She entered the appointments in her diary and turned to her messages. Nothing important except that her friend Clancy from the
New York Times
wanted her to call him. Urgent.
“Clancy? What’s up?”
“A suspicious death early this morning of a guy connected to the art world. Jimmy La Grange. Do you know him?”
“What? I can’t believe it. I’ve never met him, but I’ve been trying to reach him. A print he owned sold at Killington’s this morning for half a million dollars.”
“You have to be kidding. The police say he’s a part-time art dealer, part-time model, part-time actor, maybe a small-time hooker. They sure don’t think he had any money—he lived in a run-down tenement in the West Village. They think his death was a sex-gone-bad crime—he wanted it rough, and it got
rough,” Clancy said.
Coleman was taking notes. “Tell me everything you know, then I’ll fill you in on the auction and the print.”
“Okay, but can you get me background on this guy? It might not be a story for the
, but if it is, I’ve gotta be prepared.”
“I’ll find out what I can. Dinah probably knows him. Now, tell.”
“The police say he picked up a couple of biker types and took ’em to his apartment. A neighbor on the way home after a late night out saw two gorillas leaving La Grange’s building about one this morning. The police think La Grange was probably dead or dying by then. They’ll know more after the autopsy, but they already know he was battered to death. Did you know he was into rough stuff?”
Coleman grimaced. “Yuck. No, I never even heard of him till today. I don’t know anything about him but what I’ve told you. Who discovered the body?”
“An old lady who lived across the hall noticed his door was open and went in to see if he was all right. She’d heard a lot of noise the night before, but didn’t see anyone. But the one witness they have is sure he’d recognize the men he saw.”
“Too bad about La Grange. Young, on the verge of getting all this money, and dying in such a terrible way,” Coleman said.
“Yeah, he got a bad deal. Of course, if it was an accident, a consensual sex death, it’s nothing to do with the
But if there’s an art angle, I have to look into it. What do you think?”
art angle. Have you heard the Heyward Bain story?” She reported what she knew about Bain, the purchase of
, and Jimmy La Grange.
“I’d heard about Bain and the museum, but I had no idea of a connection with La Grange. I’ll talk to my police sources, see what they know. Call me if you learn anything from Dinah.”
Coleman fetched a cup of coffee from the conference room, sat back down at her desk, and pondered Jimmy La Grange’s death. The poor guy finally gets a big financial break, and is immediately killed. That couldn’t be a coincidence. But neither could it have been somebody trying to steal the money he got for
: Killington’s wouldn’t send out the check for weeks. But what was the link between the print and Jimmy La Grange’s death, if not money?
She telephoned Dinah, but Dinah knew almost nothing about La Grange. She’d met him a few times when he’d visited the gallery, offering prints for sale, but that was the extent of their acquaintance.
“He sold prints he picked up at garage sales, places like that. He was a runner—didn’t have a gallery—carried everything he had for sale in a portfolio. I liked him. He was shy, sweet, quiet. I bet
was supposed to be his big break,” Dinah said.
“Yes, but it may have turned out to be a curse. His selling that print for so much money almost certainly caused his death. Do you know anything about his personal life?” Coleman asked.
“No, I didn’t know him that well, and I never heard any gossip about him. But I don’t think that looking-to-be-beat-up story makes sense. He told me he made more money modeling than selling prints. His face was his fortune—he was gorgeous,” Dinah said.
seeking sex—maybe it was a gay-bashing,” Coleman said.
“It’s awful no matter how it happened. Let’s don’t talk about it anymore. Are you going to Grendle’s auction tomorrow? They have a lot of junk, a few nice things, and one fabulous print—a rare Toulouse-Lautrec. It has to be on Bain’s list,” Dinah said.
“I’m going in the hope Bain’ll turn up. But before the auction, I’m meeting Simon Fanshawe-Davies. I wish I knew more about him. Do you know a Renaissance art expert who could fill me in on Simon’s background, and his relationship with the Ransome Gallery? I don’t know if he’s a partner, or what he does there.”
“Several of my graduate school classmates specialized in the Renaissance, but they mostly work in Europe. I’ll see who I can find. Do you want to have lunch after the auction?”
“Sure, what about the Red Dragon? I’ll make a reservation.”
“Okay, see you at Grendle’s.”