Art Kills. Eric van Lustbader

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Art Kills - Eric van Lustbader

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Art Kills

      Art Kills

       Stark Raving Group LLC Publishers

       P.O. Box 1451

       Beverly Hills, CA 90213

       Copyright © 2002 Eric Van Lustbader

       First Stark Raving Group edition 2014

       Cover Design: Jeffrey Weber & Bob Wynne

       Illustration: Bob Wynne

       All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review in a newspaper, magazine or electronic publication; nor may any part of this book be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording , or other, without written permission from the publisher.

       All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

       ISBN: 978-0-9892129-8-4

       Electronically printed in the United States of America

       Distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution and Bookxy


       Art Kills

       About The Author

       Stark Raving Group

      It was a strange, sultry day in Manhattan. A cadmium yellow sky smudged with clouds and wind-whipped debris arched over Fifth Avenue like an unfinished painting. And, as I say, there was a certain strangeness in the air that made my nostrils flare.

      It being lunchtime, I was at my accustomed sidewalk table at Max’s, the restaurant occupying the ground floor of the landmark hotel across the avenue from the Empire State Museum of Art. It is a truism that food, no matter how deliciously prepared, lacks a certain piquancy without a view from which to savor it. Traffic whizzed by the beautiful white stone façade of that treasure trove where, these days, I spend a good deal of my time. My father had taken me to this very museum when I was six, introducing me to Picasso, Monet, and Seurat. Years later, just before he sent me off to school in Paris, we again found ourselves in the high galleries. To his delight, it was I who pointed out the stylish nuances I had been taught about the artists he so adored. I did this faultlessly not because it was what he wanted, but because by that time I was wearing his passion for art as comfortably as a silk slip.

      When he had seen me off at the airport, he had said, “Take in everything, Tess; reject nothing. This is the artist’s secret.”

      I reached into my handbag for my agenda to check my afternoon appointments. I like to think that my father would have been proud of the business I had built up finding and examining paintings for private clients. In any event, since over his lifetime he had given the museum a great deal of money, he would have been pleased that I donate time each week to combing their permanent collection in search of fakes. That was one of my specialties.

      It was sad that I would never really know my father’s reactions to what I had become; I had just been starting out when the first of his strokes felled him. My father had made his considerable fortune extracting elements both precious and mundane from the earth. Because of this, I feel sure, he harbored a great need to give back something of what he had plundered.

      In all ways he had been a closed man – shut tight as a clam. No one had really known him – not even my mother, especially not my mother, who had run off to Europe with an Italian count of dubious repute – save me. In his image, I had perfected a grave and penetrating gaze that gave the impression that I had neither humor nor a lightness of spirit. This suited me perfectly, since I could see no earthly reason for offering my true nature like a lamb to anyone the wind blew in my direction. When I was growing up, my father spent hours teaching me how to play poker. He said it was the best way he could think of to teach me about life. He taught me that winning in poker depends on two things: memory and emotion. You had to have a whole lot of one and none of the other. I was such an adept pupil that when I was older, he would occasionally bring me into his high-stakes games as a ringer so we could both clean up.

      Willie arrived with my lunch – seared trout over wilted spinach. I inquired about his wife and three children, and he thanked me yet again for helping him find a tutor for his dyslexic eldest son. This tutor was too dear for Willie to afford so I had instructed him to quote a price half his usual fee. I made up the difference without anybody being the wiser. Willie asked me how Peter was, and I told him that Peter and I had broken up. That was a shame, Willie said. Peter was such a nice young man.

      I sighed. As usual, Willie was right on the mark. Peter was a nice young man. He was also crazy about me. That hadn’t stopped me from pushing him away; in fact, it might have been a contributing factor. Peter had been the fourth nice young man I’d dated in the two years since my father’s death. In the eighteen months between my father’s two stokes, I’d been too busy working and tending to him for any kind of social life.

      There was a hole inside me into which all these nice young men plunged like stones, sinking without a trace. Take Peter, for instance. He was kind and sweet and generous. He also knew how to kiss. But he hadn’t been able to touch me deep down where it mattered, so when he wanted to take our relationship to the next logical level, I told him as gently as I knew how that I could not. I hadn’t disliked any of them; I simply hadn’t felt anything at all. While it was true that when I saw them, more often than not I had fun, the moment they left my side they disappeared from my consciousness as if they had never existed. What was wrong with me?

      I looked down at my trout, which by now had lost all its heat. No matter; I had no appetite for it anyway. Thinking about my shortcomings made me as depressed as when studying a bleak Vlaminck land landscape.

      I had just ordered a single-malt Scotch when I happened to spot Howard Lenz hurrying down the museum’s expensive front stairs, a well-worn leather briefcase clutched in one fist. He was sweating like an ice-monkey at a Hawaiian wedding. If my mind had not wandered into dangerous and unpleasant territory, my curiosity might never have been piqued, but I needed an immediate distraction and Lenz was it. It was just after one-thirty. All the curators were in an interdepartmental conference and had been so for an hour. What was Lenz, a dodgy little art dealer, doing exiting the museum now? Knowing his rather sordid predilections as I did, it was a sure bet he hadn’t been inside admiring the artwork.

      Lenz, with a rather awkwardly distracted look on his ferret-like face, stepped off the curb and scurried across Fifth Avenue on his bandy little legs. He was heading more or less directly toward me, though in his agitated state he had not yet seen me. His long, yellow-white hair was slicked down, tied back in a ponytail that had long since gone out of style. It shone in the sunlight like a helmet. He was almost across when he spotted me. Oddly, a smile broke out on his face, and I’m sure he was just about to say something when a large black sedan running the red light on Eightieth Street plowed right into him. Lenz, looking quite stunned, was hurled into the side of a parked white Lexus and dragged all the way to the car’s front end, where he fetched up against the rear bumper of the Chrysler parked just in front.

      I describe this horrific scene in retrospect. At the time, it was merely a blur. All that registered was Lenz’s body bouncing like a ball off the side of the white Lexus and blood exploding like paint on a Pollock canvas. My stomach seemed to rise up into my throat, threatening to disgorge its contents.

      People were screaming, running from every direction. An elderly woman at the table next to mine fainted, adding to the confusion and panic. Crowds formed as if from thin air, teeming like ants over a mound of earth. I joined them, slipping over the restaurant’s low, wrought-iron railing. I could see Lenz’s

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