Appy olly gees, to any who may have already read the first draft I posted. This is a second and a half draft with more stuff added. Next time I'll post only parts that are not in this bit. Hope you enjoy, if you are adventurous enough to complete the reading.
Girl with Pomegranates
by: Ryan Buck
I studied her for a long time. The way her hair cascaded down about her shoulders. Her coy little glance. The bored way in which she stood before me. Taking in the subtle curves of her well formed...well you get the idea. Normally I'm not a girl watcher, but when presented with a vision of beauty I have a tendency to ogle, just like any other warm blooded male.
I'd been made to wait in this little room with her. She made all the other decorations drab in comparison. Try as I might to distract myself with some other piece of eclectic hob snobbery that dotted the room, my eyes always returned to her.
"She's a fake, you know?"
I hadn't heard the door open. I turned to see a little man with a pocket watch standing next to an over elegant chair. He made the chair look like a mountain as he climbed into it. Finally, breathlessly, taking his place amoung the posh looking pillows, he stared past me, at her, twirling his pinky ring.
"Is she? I wouldn't know." Trying to reclaim some of my disinterest, I pulled out my cigar and made motion to light it. The little man looked at me sideways so I just chewed on the end for a while.
"No well of course you wouldn't." He affected a British accent, the kind Hollywood had made vogue. It only enhanced his snideness. "See how her right arm droops just a bit too far left? Or how her nose is slightly crooked? Only a well versed eye would notice such things."
I like her nose. I thought about saying this, but knew it'd only make this conversation take more of my time. And as pretty as I might have thought she was, paintings just don't fire me up the way they do some people. Besides I hadn't been called in to talk art. The little man made mention of this before continuing.
"I'm sure my secretary informed you of our distress?"
"She might've mentioned something about it." I'd made the cigar soggy so I stopped chewing on it.
Checking his pocket watch, "Yes, quite." I could tell I was just as impressive to him as he was to me.
"You want to find someone, basically"
He arched one of his little eyebrows. "I should say so. But perhaps a little bit more than that for certain. I want the man responsible for this brought to justice."
I played dumb. Sometimes they like it when you give them a chance to talk. He took the bait.
"Do you see that?", pointing to a small frame next to the large girl I'd been staring at when he came in. "A Van Dongen? And that one, a Renoir? A Verteges? A Mauldliani? Oh, yes they may resemble them in some miniscule way, but I assure you every one of these paintings, loathe as I am to call them such, was painted by just one man. A most despicable man. A deplorable man. A very dangerous man." He took a breath. That last part interested me.
"How so?" I started chewing my cigar again.
The little man coughed and threw me an annoyed look for interrupting him. "He represents the very worst the art world has to offer. He's a shyster and every painting he makes devalues the work of the masters. Can you not see? Do you truly not understand?"
"Oh how can culture ever hope to survive?" He wasn't really asking me, so I shrugged again. Another fifteen minutes of his huffing and I was out the door and driving up Prestige Ave. toward downtown. I'd learned in between the little man's rants about the state of "art" in the world today that the dangerous man's name was Jacque Foucart and he sometimes threw money away at a bar called Tornado Alley. The little man's cute secretary had given me an address as well but told me that it had already been checked out as a fake.
I'd heard of Tornado Alley, and not much of it was good. It also wasn't normally the place limp-wristed artists would frequent. I dropped my beat up jalopy at a Park n' Ride a few blocks south and hoofed it the rest of the way. On the way I ditched the tie I had been wearing to meet the little man. Tornado Alley wasn't the kind of place that looked kindly upon a man wearing a tie.
"Well, ain't seen you 'round here before."
After two hours of sitting around looking conspicuous I finally get the welcome I've been waiting for. Normally if a place was up to no good I'd have been 'greeted' much sooner. I took this as a hopeful sign.
"Mind if I have a seat. Bar's normally not this crowded."
I made a glance around the bar. I counted seven other saps besides me and Mr. Curious here. He sat down with out my say. He looked like he could take me. Which doesn't mean to say he was all that impressive. I've never been much of a fighter but obviously he didn't have much faith in my ability to cause trouble. I didn't say anything to him. I just sat and quietly drank from the bottle the waitress had brought me. He acted disinterested. It took him three minutes to say something.
"So...in town long?"
Among the initiated his question deciphered to; " I'm a pimp and can provide you with a date."
"Yes...I'm looking for someone. A painter." It was best to get to the point. I didn't feel like wading through a half hour conversation with this guy. He would just waste my time. Besides I hate listening to pimps talk about their "stables".
"Well, I don't know no painters."
"I know you don't. But somebody in here does and I'd very much like to speak to them."
He looked at me for a few seconds, sucking on his teeth, trying to decide whether or not to be insulted. He didn't want to play that game either. He got up from the table and walked to the bar. He asked the barkeep for the phone. He made a call. Had a mumbled conversation and came back to tell me, "Five minutes."
He walked back to the far end of the bar near the door and sat down. I continued drinking until whoever was coming got here.
Five minutes later a woman walked through the door. She looked at Mr. Curious, who nodded in my direction. She checked me up and down then strutted toward my table. She looked good. It wasn't easy trying not to stare. I resisted the urge to watch her slide into the booth. She didn't seem to acknowledge my turmoil. She coughed once then opened her purse to pull out some gum. She smacked it a few times then started in.
"So Barnaby says that you were lookin' for somebody?"
I couldn't help staring at her. She looked so familiar, but I was pretty sure I'd never met her before. It became one of those annoying sensations, like when popcorn gets stuck between your teeth. Before she picked up on anything I went straight to business.
"Yes. I've been instructed that I might be able to find a...Jacque Foucart, here. He's supposedly a painter."
She gave me a queer smile. "Never heard of him." She put the gum in the ashtray and pulled a cigarette from her purse. I leaned back, tipped up my hat and grabbed the shot glass in front of me.
"Then we've got nothing to talk about do we?" I threw what was left of the bourbon at the back of my throat, it sat nice there.
"You don't look like no cop. But that doesn't mean you ain't one."
"I'm not a cop. I'm just trying to find someone." I poured another drink and decided to go fishing.
"You sure you don't know him? He's supposed to be a skinny guy about this high. Pencil thin mustache. Kinda effeminate." I had no idea who I'd just described, but it was certainly not Jacque Foucart. Of course I'd got what Foucart looked like from the cute secretary that worked for the little man.
"Ya see, I heard he was pretty good at makin' paintings and I was hoping he'd do me a favor."
"I told ya, I ain't seen him."
"Actually you'd said you'd never heard of him."
"What difference does it make? I don't know the guy."
"Yep, okay." I took a swig of bourbon, and poured another. She puffed on her cigarette a few times.
"So what kind of favor?"
"I thought you didn't know him?"
"Doesn't mean I can't find out for ya though." She was shrewd. She played me for a cop. I get that a lot. I needed to set her straight or else I might lose my pigeon.
"Look sister, you can stop giving me the run around. I'm not a cop. My boss wants a few new paintings for his gallery. He me give a name. He tell me where to look. That's all. I'm not trying to hassle nobody I swear." Okay so maybe I didn't tip her to the according to Hoyle truth of it, but it was close enough. She chewed her lip for a second.
"Okay. I'll go talk to Jacque. Wait here and I'll be back." I nodded and swung another drink into my belly. She slid out as easily as she had slid in and off she went. I knew that if I didn't follow her, I'd never see her again.
She was no specialist at dodging followers so I didn't have a hard time shadowing her. She'd gotten two blocks north before I picked her up. She took too many random turns and would double-back often. Once I noticed her pattern I stuck to the main course and waited for her to catch up with me. After about a winding twenty minutes, which straight away would've gotten us there in under five, she finally went inside a chummy looking apartment building. Not too cramped like most you might see in the downtown area. This one had a courtyard and lots of plants. It was two stories high and had a balcony that ran all the way round. The apartment doors all faced inward. I saw her go into an upstairs room, Number 202. I camped across the street and waited for her to come out again.
Three hours later, my patience ran out on me. I crossed the street and the courtyard and huffed myself up the stairs to Number 202. I listened at the door frame. A radio was playing and water was running. I scratched my chin. I huffed back down the stairs and then to the manager's bungalow. Inside were more plants. Hanging plants. Potted plants. Plants of all colors and smells. The odors and the heat stung my eyes for a second. I didn't notice anyone at the desk and no jangly bells had announced my entrance. There was a door behind the desk that was closed. I snuck up to it.
I didn't hear anything behind the door at first, then I caught the faint sound of a lighter flashing and the bubbling of water. I also caught the recognizable scent of a very particular plant. I shook my head. It must be nice not to have to work for a living. I went back to the front door and made a lot of noise like I was just coming in. I heard some scuffling from the door behind the desk. The door opened and a frumpy looking man in a sweater came stumbling out, tendrils of smoke still clinging to him. He smiled lamely at me.
"What can I do ya for?"
"You got any rooms available?"
He gave me a sideways glance, but more to hide his eyes than from anything sinister.
"We don't rent out by the night."
"I know. I'm looking to stay awhile."
He looked me up and down.
"You don't look like trouble."
I get that a lot to. If people don't take me for a cop then they usually don't take me for much else. I played that angle up.
"Me? Naw. I just split with the missus and need a place to hole up 'til that all gets sorted. You know?"
He nodded and let out a little chuckle. He shuffled through some papers until he found what he was looking for.
"It's 80 a week. And no funny stuff. We got one on the second floor. You wanna look at it?"
I nodded my head. He shuffled around some more on the desk, looking for a set of keys he eventually found and then we left the malodorous office.
He took me up to Number 214. It wasn't directly across from 202, but I could still see the door form the window. I gave the frumpy manager 80 buck's and told him I'd be down to sign the papers after I showered.
"Ain't you got any luggage?"
"Just what I'm wearin'. She threw me out with nothin else." I lied. He gave another little knowing chuckle.
"I'll give you the key after you fill out the agreement." Then he left. I took off my jacket and shirt and washed up in the bathroom sink. I got dressed and sat in front of the window watching Number 202. I wasn't quite clear yet how I'd make my play. It made sense to wait her out and see what came of it. That's what most of this business is anyway. But I had a feeling that if I strong armed her I might get better results.
I walked the balcony over to Number 202. I listened at the door before I knocked. There was a one sided muffled conversation. She was on the telephone. All the better. I knocked loudly on the door.
"Who is it?"
I didn't answer. I knocked again, louder than before.
"Fer ***** sake!" I heard her stomp toward the door. "What do..." was all she got out as I pushed my way in and put my hand over her mouth.
"Remember me?" Her eyes were full of terror before she recognized me. She twisted out of my grasp. I let her do it. I'm not much of a fighter, as I'd said, and I sure hated making this rough play with her, but I needed her to know I meant business. She didn't scream or run or do any of the cliched things women in peril are supposed to do. Instead she went over to the phone, told the person on the other end she'd call them back then went to her purse and pulled out a stick of gum. She offered me one. I didn't take it.
"You are a cop."
I took off my hat and laid it on the table by the window. There were stacks of paper everywhere. In the corner near the bed were ten wooden frames with nothing in them. I picked up one of the sheets of paper. A drawing of a woman was scrawled on it. She looked familiar. I looked the face and then it hit me. Her nose was crooked. I looked up at the flesh and blood version of her in front of me.
"Quite a nice little scam you and your boyfriend got here."
She smacked her gum and sat on the bed.
"Where is he?"
"He's out." She crossed her arms and her legs. I sat down in the chair by the table. We just eyed each other for a while. I had figured she might make a sex play, but the disdain in her eyes told me to forget it. I was a little sorry she didn't.
"When's he getting back?"
"What do you want to know for?"
"I told you I was looking for him."
"Yeah, you also said you weren't a cop."
"I'm not a cop."
"Your a ****."
I shrugged. I couldn't deny that.
"Give me a cigarette, would ya?" She pointed to the purse on the table. I rifled through it till I found a silver case with the engraved initials J.F. I tossed her the case. She flipped it open, took a cigarette, closed it and tossed it back to me in one fluid motion.
"How 'bout a light copper?" There was a box of matches on the table. I tossed that to her. As she was lighting her cigarette I looked out the window.
"You expecting anyone else?"
She looked at me curiously and came to look out the window. Crossing the courtyard were two men in dark clothes. Their demeanor screamed gangster.
"Oh ****! We have to leave here now." She frantically gathered up her purse.
"I've got a place across the way, let's go." She nodded and we left. We were just closing the door to Number 214 when the two thugs reached the top of the stairs. I peeked through the curtains to watch them. They banged on the door a few times. When no answer came one of them kicked the door in. They came out a minute later and then went down to the manager's bungalow. I turned to her. She was dialing the phone. "What's your name?"
She didn't answer. She looked scared. She was biting her lip. Whoever she was calling wasn't answering. She let it ring awhile then hung up. her hands were shaking.
"Can you protect us?"
"I'm not a cop."
She chewed on her thumbnail then dug through her purse. She pulled out the pack of cigarettes but dropped them. She bent down to scoop them up and didn't get back up. She was trembling and a soft whimper escaped her. I walked to her and put my hand on her shoulder.
"Tell me what's going on?"
It took her a moment to ease the fear out of her voice. "Why do you want to talk to Jacques?"
I was going to feed her the same line I had given her at the bar, but the truth came out instead.
"I was hired by the Gallery Grande to track him down and turn him in."
She looked up at me, her eyes surprised. "You mean you're a dick?"
I shrugged. She looked away toward the pack of cigarettes. "You're a ****."
I helped her stand and we sat together on the bed. She had gotten a cigarette out and was puffing away like the 4:20 to Greenhill. We sat together in silence until the last of her smoke was ash.
I bit my lip, thinking. More things that weren't lies tumbled out of my mouth. "I'm not gonna turn you in."
She didn't seemed surprised, just confused. I was confused to. I didn't know why I'd said it. I didn't even know I felt it till I had said it, but once it was out I knew I meant it. She didn't ask why, and that spared me having to confess to her my reasons.
"Tell me what's going on?"
She took a few deep breaths then spilled the story for me. It wasn't anything outrageous. Just two hustlers in over their heads. Jacques was an artist. A damned talented one by her estimation. He'd fallen on hard times and had gotten into swindling rich older ladies into buying "lost masterpieces". She claimed it was innocent at first. His first sale had been completely unintentional. He'd been pushing his canvases around ritzy joints but nobody wanted any. They were only after Picasso's or Monet's. In all his shilling he made a few upper class acquaintances. One of these ladies visits his pad and sees a sketch lying around and takes it for a Renoir. She offers him 500 dollars for it. He was hungry so he took it. And from there he realized he could get just enough money to live off of by selling other "Renoir's" and "Picasso's" he'd come up with.
She told me he never intended to keep at it. It was never meant to get so out of hand. I smiled at her naiveté. As the story went, he was only trying to make enough to get by. And, as inevitably these things progress, he came to the attention of some 'gentlemen' who saw more potential in Jacque's work and 'encouraged' him to continue producing fakes.
These weren't the men in dark suits that had come by to pay a visit just now. But those men worked for the others. She said they were looking for Jacques cause Jacques had run out on them. Had run out on them and straight to her. She told me she and Jacque had been sweet on each other for some time and he had no where else to go. She had some dough and had kept them okay for a while, but when the money had thinned they started raising it the good 'ol fashioned way.
She figured that's how they tracked her down, just like I had. She was just lucky I had gotten to her first.