Read The Moche Warrior Online

Authors: Lyn Hamilton

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Detectives, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Social Science, #Toronto (Ont.), #Antique Dealers, #McClintoch; Lara (Fictitious Character), #Archaeology, #Archaeological Thefts, #Women Detectives - Peru, #Moche (Peru)

The Moche Warrior (2 page)

BOOK: The Moche Warrior
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“I don’t think he’ll be much of a threat to you, darling,” she went on. Moira called everybody darling. “After all, he never did an honest day’s work in his life, now did he?”‘

That much, I thought, was true. Clive was a brilliant designer, and we’d been a good combination for a while. However, it didn’t take a genius to notice that soon after we were married and I’d given him a half interest in the shop as a wedding present, he’d taken to lying about hotel pools ogling young women in bikinis while I pressed a rented Jeep up steep mountain roads to get to the perfect wood carvers, or argued with customs agents in some hot, sweaty warehouse.

Technically Moira was right. Clive didn’t like to work. But he’d remarried, a wealthy woman by the name of Celeste, and she had more than enough money to hire people to do the work for him. I tried to make light of it, assuring Sarah, who must have wondered what she’d done in a previous life to deserve finding herself involved in this battle, that Clive would not be a problem.

The truth was, however, he could work hard when he chose to, and he’d been a ferocious adversary in our divorce proceedings. I considered him very much a threat, but more than that. I’d loved him once, we’d been married for twelve years, and seeing his name in elegant gold letters on the sign across the street was a constant reminder of something I considered a personal shortcoming, as if the failure of the marriage, and Clive’s behavior, was somehow due entirely to inadequacy on my part. I dreaded the inevitable first meeting, and my anxiety made me furious, both at Clive and at myself.

I tried to put as good a face on as I could, and made a point of carrying on much as usual, concentrating on the details and the routine of my life. There were the plans for my next trip to Indonesia and Thailand, and the handling of the latest shipment from Mexico. On the more social side, there was dinner at Rob’s house on Sundays, where as usual this time of year, Sophia, Jennifer, and I would sit on the back deck and watch Rob and Anthony barbecue, while Barbara, a perky blonde with a ponytail and gorgeous physique, and a shoo-in for the Martha Stewart award for perfect housekeeping should there ever be such a thing, passed exquisite little hors d’oeuvres and tossed salads of leaves and other ingredients I couldn’t even identify.

There was also the auction of Maud’s possessions at Molesworth & Cox. I thought I’d attend to see if I could purchase some of Maud’s things, some stuff I could sell in the store, and a personal memento or two of Maud and Frank. I’d asked Alex to watch out for the auction notice for me.

Alex did one better and got me a copy of the catalogue, which he was perusing one day while I arranged a new window display, assiduously avoiding glancing across the street at Clive’s shop.

“Well, what have we here?” I heard him mutter. “Here, have a look, Lara. Is this what I think it is?”

I glanced at the catalogue and smiled. “Cape Cod,” I said. “Good work, Alex. I might not have noticed that.”

“Won’t Jean Yves be pleased?” he replied. “You’d better get there in lots of time for this one.”

“This one” was a set of six pressed glass water goblets, dating to the 1880’s, in the Cape Cod pattern, to be auctioned off the same day as Maud’s possessions. The Jean Yves in question was Jean Yves Lassonde, a French actor who’d come to Hollywood ten years earlier to make a movie, and had stayed in America, buying a farm in upper New York state and settling in. I’d met him a number of years earlier, back when Clive and I had been in business together, when Jean Yves had been in town making a movie.

He’d wandered into the shop, called McClintoch and Swain back then, and had loved the place. That first visit, he’d purchased a beautiful old mirror and an antique teak armoire which I’d arranged to have shipped to his farm. After that he dropped in whenever he was in town, and almost always bought something. On one visit, I’d sold him a very large carved oak refectory table from Mexico, complete with sixteen matching chairs with beautifully carved backs and nicely worn leather seats.

He’d joked at the time that he didn’t know what he’d do with such a large table when he’d only been able to find five antique goblets in a pattern he’d begun to collect: Cape Cod. Even though North American pressed glass was not my specialty, because he was such a good customer, and a really lovely person, I’d done some research on the subject and discovered that the molds for pressed glass were regularly passed across the U.S./Canadian border, and for a period of time the pattern might have been manufactured at the Burlington Glass Works on the Canadian side.

Armed with this knowledge, I’d been able to find a goblet at an estate sale outside Toronto, and I’d sent it to him with one of his shipments as a little gift from the shop. He’d been thrilled, as I knew he would be. He accepted the goblet as a gift, but insisted that, if I found any more, he wanted to pay for them. I’d come across two more after that, and he’d been able to find one himself, so now he had nine. Seven to go. And here in the Molesworth & Cox catalogue were six of them. Jean Yves would be pleased indeed.

The day of the auction was hot and muggy, and I entered the august and cool premises with a sense of both relief and anticipation. I don’t buy much at auctions: Most of my buying is done direct from the craftsperson, or from my agents and pickers in various parts of the world. But there is nothing like an auction to get the adrenaline flowing and to bring out the competitive spirit in most of us.

Molesworth & Cox brought a veneer of old-world class and sophistication to that competitive flame. An old British company, founded almost 150 years ago, when treasure from the far reaches of the Empire poured into London, it proudly displayed the escutcheons that heralded it as a purveyor of goods to Her Majesty the Queen and one or two of the lesser Royals. The company had expanded to North America several years earlier and had established auction houses in New York, Dallas, and Toronto. The Toronto establishment was located on King Street just a block or two from the towering bank edifices where a considerable amount of Molesworth & Cox merchandise could be found gracing the boardrooms of these modern-day cathedrals where mammon reigns supreme.

The outside of the establishment was so discreet that you’d be inclined to miss it unless given explicit directions, just a subdued bronze plaque beside a quietly elegant door hinting at what was within.

The place still had an air of British Empire, carefully maintained, and it always reminded me of what I imagined a British club in India during the days of the Raj to be: lots of palm fronds; large windows shuttered against the sun and the heat; highly polished brass; dark wood; worn leather chairs; and strong, dark tea—Assam, perhaps—served in translucent china cups from an etched brass tray, the quiet smell of expensive cigar lingering in the air.

Visitors rang the doorbell to gain entry, and once inside found themselves in the viewing rooms, two on either side of a center hall. The rooms were painted in a dark, dark green, and Oriental carpets covered the floors. As I always do at an auction, I quickly surveyed the room, checking to see if there was anything of interest beyond the specific objects I was looking for. I found Maud’s things right away, and mentally settled on a couple of sterling silver frames for myself, and three pairs of old brass candlesticks for the shop.

The water goblets were in the second room, and as quickly as I could, I checked them out. Pressed glass is highly collectible these days, and the prices have reached the point where there are inevitably fakes around. They looked okay to me, and of course they had a Molesworth & Cox certificate of authentication to back them up. There was a reserve bid of $175 on them, which was fine. Jean Yves was prepared to pay about $50 per goblet, and this left some maneuvering room.

Following my usual auction strategy, I spent as little time as possible on the objects I really wanted, feigning indifference, and then spent time looking at what I didn’t want, in this case a set of Royal Doulton china with an impeccable pedigree, having belonged at one time to the Duke of something or other, and purportedly commissioned especially for a visit to the Duke’s castle by none other than Queen Victoria. I don’t know what I think I accomplish with this mild subterfuge; I can’t imagine anyone bids high on objects because they saw me looking at them. Superstition, perhaps.

At Molesworth & Cox, purchasers are required to register and establish credit, and once they have proved themselves worthy, are given a number and a paddle with that number on it. No unseemly yelling at M & C. To make a bid, one merely raises one’s paddle with a hand sign for the amount if necessary, in as refined and dignified a way as possible.

I took my seat early, sitting as I usually do in the middle of the row toward the back and watched others take their seats in front of me. The usual suspects were there—about a dozen dealers, one or two of whom I knew by name, the others only by sight. I was a little disappointed to see Sharon Steele. She’s a dealer with an antique store on Queen Street West specializing in old glass, and I expected she too would be interested in the water goblets. There were also a few yuppie couples, an Arab businessman or two, and a few obviously wealthy Chinese. There was also Ernie, an older gentleman who had been at every auction I’d ever attended in this place, and someone I’d never seen buy anything whatsoever.

One person seemed rather out of the ordinary, and I’d never seen him here before, not that that meant anything. I noticed him only, I think, because he seemed rather out of his element. He was medium height and build, dark, his collar and cuffs were a little worn, his shoes a little scuffed, his greyish-green suit a little shiny, nothing that would look out of place anywhere but here, perhaps. He was nervous, and if anything, rather furtive. He kept his hands in his pockets, his eyes kept darting about the room, and from time to time his tongue would flick quickly out of his mouth and back. In the very bad habit I have of giving strangers nicknames, I mentally named him Lizard.

I half expected Lizard to leave when the time for the auction came, but he didn’t. In fact, he had obviously passed muster because he had a paddle, number nine, and he took a seat several rows ahead of me and off to the right.

Maud’s mirrors and candlesticks were to be the third and fourth items up for sale, and the goblets, the tenth. Bidding was brisk for the first few items, but I had little competition for Maud’s possessions and got both the frames and the candlesticks for what I considered a satisfactory price. I then sat back to wait for the goblets. Sharon Steele had not yet bid on anything, so I figured she was waiting for the goblets too. I knew her to be a conservative bidder, so I thought I stood a reasonable chance of getting what I wanted.

Sharon was number eighteen, I was twenty-three. When the goblets came up, opening with the reserve bid, a number of people put in bids, but by the time the bidding reached $230, only Sharon and I were in. The auctioneer seesawed between the two of us until we got to $300, Sharon’s bid. This was Jean Yves’s limit, but I raised her to $310 hoping that would be the end of it. It wasn’t. Sharon, it seemed, wanted these pretty badly too. By this time I was mentally calculating how much of a loss I was prepared to take. Jean Yves was a good, no, a great customer, and business wasn’t bad these days. But Sarah and I would never get rich, and as the saying goes, on a good month we could almost pay the rent.

As another saying goes, he who hesitates is lost.

The bidding hit $400, and for a few seconds I lost my nerve. Much to Sharon’s surprise and mine, someone farther back raised the bid to $450, and the gavel came down. “Sold to thirty-one,” the auctioneer said.

I was sitting dealing with my disappointment when a voice I knew only too well came from behind. “I think Jean Yves will be pleased with the goblets, don’t you?” the voice asked amiably.

Clive. I turned around to find my ex-husband, a smug expression on his face, sitting directly behind me. He was very elegantly attired, maybe Armani, I remember thinking—Moira would know—with very trendy little wire glasses and an expensive-looking haircut.

“Why are you doing this?” I hissed at him. He was stroking his moustache as I spoke, a gesture that at one time, I seemed to recall, I had found profoundly attractive, but which now just incensed me.

“Doing what?” he asked innocently. “I just thought I’d pick these up for Jean Yves. I was afraid Sharon would get them, so I leapt in.”

“You didn’t do it for Jean Yves. You did it for the same reason you opened up across the street from me,” I whispered, acutely conscious that people nearby were watching us, but too angry to care.

“You did it to spite me,” I went on. “Why? I gave you half the money for the store, and surely Celeste has enough money to keep you in style,” I hissed.

“But it was never the money, my darling. I just need a chance to express my creativity,” he said.

Yeah, right, I thought. “I’m not your darling,” I sputtered, getting up from my seat and heading for the door.

By the time I’d climbed over the legs of several people sitting between me and the aisle, the tears of rage I was determined not to show pricking at the back of my eyes, the bidding on the next item had already begun. As I was about to stumble out the door at the back of the room, I saw someone lurking—there is no other word for it—behind a potted palm. I could not imagine what he was doing there. He didn’t appear to have a number, and he looked, if anything, even more out of place than Lizard. He was dressed completely in black, and he was concentrating very hard on the bidding that was going on. As I went by his hiding place, he turned, his concentration broken by my passing, and for a moment he stared right at me. It was all I could do not to gasp out loud. His eyes were very dark and hooded, and the backs of his hands were covered in dark hair. For some reason I cannot explain, something about the way he held his arms out from his body, almost like pincers, reminded me of a crab, or perhaps an enormous black spider, and a poisonous one at that. His eyes held mine for a second or two, and then he turned back to the bidding.

BOOK: The Moche Warrior
3.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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