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Authors: Jonathan Gash

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BOOK: The Grace in Older Women
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From there I 'teamed in', as dealers call assembling a mob for an
up-coming scam, a good mob of forgers. For quickness, I restricted the journey
to a seven-mile radius. But even so I got Speckie to promise me three long
caser ('grandfather') clocks. He still had girlfriend problems, but I trust his
work because he's red hot, making the seat boards as authentic as possible. The
seat board's often the giveaway in long case clocks, because it's inside the
clock anyway, and who bothers to remove the hood and examine where the clock
movement sits? Speckie always uses age-compatible wood, and he's never yet
turned out a clock with a seat board having two sets of aligning holes instead
of one, the correct number. You can't trust forgers these days. It's come to
something when you have to confess that.

Linnetta teamed in. I like her even if we've never yet made smiles
because she never shouts at me. She specializes in porcelain, does lovely marks
that she practices weeks on end before ever firing a piece. She reads a lot.
She's the only ceramics forger we've got careful enough to exclude chrome when
faking tin-glaze wares of the eighteenth century - chromes tint the ceramics a
faint pink, and chrome wasn't around until the nineteenth century.

Jewellery is always a riot. Amberoid pressed from spare bits to
copy genuine whole-piece amber is easy, but has interfaces that you can see
miles away. (Tip: just shine a reflected light through). Phoney diamonds are
commonest - though with conductivity meters it costs only fifty pence to test
one diamond, however big. Pearls are good, but their availability nowadays is
such that you might as well not fake them with fishscales at all, just buy the
real thing if you can. (But don't, please, dip the silken thread into nail
varnish to make them easier to string; solvents dissolve them.) Brown diamonds
are in vogue, so I wanted to keep off them. Solid carbon dioxide turns diamonds
brown, having got trapped in the crystal in the earth's mantle some 245 miles
deep down.

To be careful, I teamed in four jewel forgers, plus Phoebe the
Slave (her choice of nickname, not mine). She works in the Arcade, midweek. Her
husband's a politician in London and she wants to experience lowlifes. I
approve. What she gets up to behind the tarpaulin at the far end near Woody's
caff with Mincer - beer bellied, tattoos enough to print him as a comic - is
her own business.

Paintings were more difficult. I'd need Juliana (Miss) and maybe
find time to look out some more of those I'd got in my workshop. For
watercolours I got Doothie, making him promise to buy the right paper off
Cloana in Aldeburgh. She makes the stuff, deckles it in her little cottage, any
age of watermarks you want. The trouble is, she has a waiting list as long as
your arm for her authentic replica genuine fake papers. I was in too much of a
hurry to argue, simply told Doothie (he's in his eighties, but the patience
bit, remember?) to make sure he included a couple of Buckingham Palace
watercolours, with Marble Arch in the entrance to its forecourt like it used to
be. 'Copy the view from the park, Doothie,' I said, 'like Joseph Nash's
paintings of 1846 that the Queen has, okay? Sell like hot cakes.'

'Anything else, Lovejoy?' he asked, all eager.

'Far East scenics, early Indian Empire. Days of the Raj stuff. But
none of Chinnery's Hong Kong or Chinese drawings from Sotheby's bloody
catalogue. Everybody's doing them. I'll take two dozen watercolours. You can
buy in, but subbing's your own deal.'

I like the old geezer.

'Can I take orders if they sell, Lovejoy?' he asked.

Honest to God. Do you believe some people? He gets on my wick.

He honestly said that, like he was making Bakewell puddings at a
fete. I didn't answer, just left, shaking my head. Eighty-four, still daft as a
brush. In that happy state of endogenous depression, I drove home. Help
everybody, what do you get?



The cottage looked different. I realized I'd not been home for
donkey's years. I stood at the gate - there's no gate; it rotted. The gravel
drive was free of weeds. The grass had been cut, a swathe beside the path for
neatness. Smoke ascended. And, miraculously, washing on a washing line. I
didn't know I had one. A white thing blocked the window. I pondered for a
while, then my megabrain went
Hesitant, I made the porch.

'Hello?' I thought, this has to be a bird. Tinker only clears me
out of booze, leaves a sour smell.

'Hello?' A bird, from indoors. 'Is that you, Lovejoy?'

'It had better be.' I wondered if it was safe.

She came to check. 'Wipe your feet.'

'Sorry.' I wiped, entered, stood like a lemon. She was in my
kitchen alcove. 'What's that funny smell?'

'Bread.' She was up to her elbows in dough. Very satisfying, to
watch a bird who knows what she's about, kneading dough. When you think of the
technology in bread, you realize the bedrock of expertise that domesticity
rests on. All woman-made, lovely to see, and Chemise so natural. How did they
know? Are they secretly shown how by each other? The cottage hadn't ponged new
bread for many a moon. I don't bake much.

'Nice, love.'

'Perhaps, when I find a single utensil, Lovejoy.'

That earned a sigh. No sooner in the door than they start
ballocking me. Utensils? Our grandmas slogged with hardly a thing, did wonders.
I remembered about Tryer.

'Mind your manners, or I'll evict you. The rent's dear.'

'Where have you been, Lovejoy? I've been waiting weeks.'

'You can't have,' I pointed out. 'Because . . .' Because Tryer was
only recently murdered? 'I called, not long back.' Lame, lame.

'Your shirt's aired, Lovejoy. Clean trousers, jacket. Secondhand,
the charity shop, but . . .' She shrugged, didn't look. She meant my attire was

'Right.' I went brisk, this was all routine. Tea on?'

'Will be soon. Get yourself washed and changed.'

See what I mean? Even mild agreement is a declaration of war. But
I forgave her. She was only keeping going. I went magnanimous, Big John Sheehan
with cowardice.

'Hot water, is there?' I asked to keep her on her toes.

She swivelled.

'And the bath?' I'd been using it for washing some old parchment,
giving it a really good soak before illuminating a fourteenth-century
devotional Book of Hours. A 'carpet' page, just like the gorgeous Lindisfarne
Gospels, makes a fortune.

'Cleaned, ready.' She added, needling, 'Soap waiting.'

Stung, I went to the bathroom, giving her my silent reproach, and
undressed. Then a cold draught struck.

'Hey!' I said, grabbing a towel. 'Keep out, you cow!'

'Found anything I haven't seen, Lovejoy?' She grabbed my discarded
clothes, slammed the door to. 'If you have,' she called, irate, 'I'll call Doc
Lancaster. He'll be fascinated.'

'Ha - de - ha - ha.' The water was really hot. I like it tepid, so
cooled it and climbed in.

She came again, washing my back, shoving me to reach my nape.

'Hope you've washed that frigging dough off your elbows?'

'Keep still,' she said. 'Worse than a child. You stink like a
chemist's. You been with some tart?'

Roberta was no tart. I told Chemise to mind her own business. She
lathered me like I was a Crufts dog, rinsed me until I gleamed. Then she hauled
me out, dried me though I tried to grab the towel, her saying all the while not
to be silly and stand still. Then I heard her laying the table by slamming
plates down. I was out of breath. Being helped takes a compelling degree of

She was at the table when I emerged. She wore a pinafore (where
from?), chin on her interlaced fingers. Bread, marmalade, jam, tea, scones,
clotted cream, a cake, fruit salad and runny cream. Roberta would love it. She
had the stool, left me the chair. Well, my house, right? She poured, cut bread,
sat watching. I'm used to this, because women don't eat much, would rather
watch you nosh for some reason. You'd think they'd get narked, seeing their
grub engulfed in a trice, but no. Like I've always said, women are hooked on
appetites. God knows what they get out of it. Roberta Battishall was a mutant.

'Strawberry.' Chemise pointed. Strawberry jam. Yesterday's date.
She was telling me it was newly made.


'Cherry.' In silence. Another index digit, read that label.

'Mmmh.' Meaning I'd get round to it in a sec.

But here's a strange thing, I thought as I noshed. Look at Roberta
and Chemise. I know it's wrong to make comparisons, because no two women are
alike. But there was lovely Roberta, throttling anorexia by gulping calories by
the truckload while making out she was your shy retiring wallflower, going
beserk with rage when I nicked a crumb. And here was Chemise, plain as that,
yet somehow relishing watching somebody clear her table.

Not only that, Roberta was rich. Chemise was poor, had nothing,
not even her crummy Sex Museum, and her bloke, Tryer . . . well, wasn't.

Chemise waited until I slowed. She stoked the table, more
provender. I resumed, slowed, eventually chugged to a stop. She'd given me the
unchipped mug. Roberta would have had me hanged for selfishness.

We sat. A dunnock entered, for crumbs. Another came.

The place will be heaving with them,' I wanted to say, but
couldn't, so just sat there until the birds were gone.

A squirrel flirted with the door, skipped off. My hedgehog came,
trundled slowly round, then left. It was all happening. We were an hour before
somebody spoke.

'Lovejoy,' she said, 'what are we going to do?'

Ten minutes more for me to answer, and then it wasn't much of one.
'Werestforawhile,love.'Bedecisive-postpone. 'Move. I'll do the divan.'

It unfolds. Usually it's left out for ease, because you've only to
get it out again if you've been so careless as to fold it away. I was surprised
how nice it looked, sheets all clean, pillowcases white. I drew her to it,
pushed her on, and flopped down beside her just as we were. She fell asleep
immediately. I'd known she would. I bet she hadn't slept for days, not since
Tryer . . . well, whatever.

Oddly, I too slept. She shoved into me so we lay like two commas,
and that, said Alice, was that.


‘Christ, you're a randy bugger,' said a girl's voice. 'Why shag an
ugly cow like her, Lovejoy?'

A blurred Holly stood nearby, looking down at Chemise. I'd thought
I was dreaming, but wasn't. Chemise was sitting up, staring.

‘I’m Holly, Lovejoy's new assistant. I'm in, you're out.'

I 'No, love. You're not, you're not, and she's not. Hop it.'
'Who's the cow?' said this educational product. 'She is my helper, love. I
can't manage two.' Holly tittered. 'My dad says you manage several.' Who?
'Who?' I said aloud, shrugged to show Chemise I disclaimed Holly, dad and all.
'Sod off.'

'You need me, Lovejoy. I know the chief magistrate.'

'I'm legal clean, love. Close the door as you leave.'

She left, but I had the notion she'd not go far. Chemise was
looking after her, craning, the divan tilting.

'Lovejoy. What are we going to do?'

That's women.
problem, it's what are we going to do. It means you've to solve it while they
criticize and tell you, down among the muck and bullets, where you're going
wrong. But you have a problem, then it's tough luck.

'We?' Time to marry some ends, make many problems become fewer.
'We, love, are going to the bishop.'

'Bishop? As in church?'

'No. As in cathedral.'

The phone rang. I stared, amazed. It hadn't done that for yonks. I
picked it up gingerly. 'Oh. Hello, Sabrina.'

'Have you somebody else there?' she rasped out.

'No, no. Just the, er, post girl delivering a parcel.'

'Leslie suspects, darling. Forget this Sunday.'

'Right.' I pulled a face at Chemise, apologies.

'I'll come early tomorrow, bring the biggin.' Hell. I'd forgotten
her manky auction. 'Maybe we'll have a little playtime before I have to run,

'Mmmh,' I said, trying to be casual for Chemise's sake and
rapacious for Sabrina's.

'Eight o'clock, brute lover?'

'Right. Eight.' I returned to Chemise. 'Look, love. How about you
stay here, while we're rigging this exhibition?' I added sternly, 'I start
early, okay?'

'Very well, Lovejoy. Will the bishop solve anything?'

'Who knows until we ask?' I hauled her up. 'Have you any dosh?'

'A little, Lovejoy.'

'Hang on.' I rang, got Doothie. He was narked, having his nap.
'Get faking, not kipping, you geriatric. What if you popped off? Where would
that leave me? Is Juggernaut out?'

'Yes. Left prison last week. But going straight, Lovejoy.'

Juggernaut's Doothie's money-hugging engraver. 'I need a forged
Bank of England One Pound banknote. Number Two was sold in Spinks of London,
price of a freehold house. Description in their catalogue.'

BOOK: The Grace in Older Women
11.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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