A Most Unpleasant Picture
By Judith Alguire
Confirmed bachelor and professional art authenticator Leonard Anderson, long the protégé of aged and wealthy Luella Pryce, is so in love with her early Cartwright paintings that he cannot wait to receive them—as he has been led to believe—in her will. He removes them for ... Read more
Confirmed bachelor and professional art authenticator Leonard Anderson, long the protégé of aged and wealthy Luella Pryce, is so in love with her early Cartwright paintings that he cannot wait to receive them—as he has been led to believe—in her will. He removes them for cleaning, has them copied, returns the forgeries to Luella and keeps the originals. Then Luella drops a bomb: she tells Leonard she plans to donate her collection to the local gallery on the Caribbean island of St. Napoli on her death.
Fearing exposure, as Luella is in poor health, yet spurning any notion of switching the paintings back, Leonard conspires with his wicked nephew Tibor to destroy the fakes by burning down Luella’s house while she is away at a gala. But Luella never makes it to the gala. Asleep in her bathtub, she burns along with her house. Authorities blame her careless smoking for the conflagration.
When Leonard suffers disastrous financial losses in the Asian market, Tibor, who has his own needs for quick cash, presses him to sell the Cartwrights in the shady underworld of art acquisition. To get his nephew off his back, Leonard conspires to once again have copies made of the originals. But Cerise, the daughter of an old paramour and a con artist in her own right, catches him in the act. Not above a little blackmail despite her affection for him, she sells her silence for a very expensive necklace. Leonard, meanwhile, sets up a sting to lead Tibor to believe the original Cartwrights are fakes. The transaction with the buyer will take place at the Pleasant Inn, in eastern Ontario, which is run by the irascible Trevor Rudley and his long-suffering wife Margaret.
Judith Alguire is a Kingston, Ontario writer, whose novels include Pleasantly Dead, The Pumpkin Murders, A Most Unpleasant Wedding, and the forthcoming Peril at the Pleasant, all of which are part of the continuing Rudley Mystery series. Her short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in such publications as The Malahat Review and Harrowsmith, and she is a past member of the editorial board of the Kingston Whig-Standard. A graduate of Queen’s University, she has recently retired from nursing.
Then came the day. Leonard had gone to Luella's for tea as he often did afternoons, making his way up the hill from his house, a short five-minute walk away. They were sipping something called Madagascar Bomb and nibbling on lemon biscuits when Luella dropped another bomb.
"I've been thinking about the art collection lately," she said. "And I've come to a decision I think will please you. "
He smiled. She was about to tell him she was donating the entire collection to him.
"I saw my lawyer this morning," she went on, "and I'm delighted to say I am donating the entire collection to the Luella Pryce Memorial Gallery. "
He gaped at her.
"Well, it isn't the Luella Pryce Memorial Gallery now," she said, "but it will be by the time the paintings are ensconced. For now it will be the Luella Pryce Gallery, which I will fund. Building will begin as soon as we review the architect's plans. "
Of course it would. Luella was the main patron and sat on the board of directors.
It was only his good breeding and silver tongue that saved him. "Why, Luella," he said, taking her hand, brushing his lips over the silky thin skin, "what a splendid plan. Not surprising, of course, given your record of generosity and leadership to this community. "
She smiled. "I knew you would approve. " She raised a finger. "Now, I haven't forgot you, of course, dear Leonard. "
His ears pricked up.
"I have instructed that you are to be recognized on the plaque as the genius who assembled the collection. "
"That's very gracious of you, Luella. I, of course, was merely a humble agent," he said modestly, all the time thinking that if he hadn't been the agent the collection would have been atrocious.
He sat smiling, occasionally sipping at his tea, while she went on about her plans for the gallery, the curtains, the floor coverings, the furnishings, his mind a muddle. When Luella finally shuffled off, he knew what would happen. The paintings would be taken to the gallery, which would call upon the services of its own curator and probably an expert on contract. And he knew that expert, because of his close relationship to Luella, would not be him.
After tea, he went home, went into his studio, locked the door, and ruminated. There was a simple solution, of course--in his opinion this sort of situation could always be solved by simple means. Unfortunately, the solution, although simple, was disagreeable. He could, for example, talk Luella into having him clean the Cartwrights again, then simply return the originals to her. The problem with this was twofold: He would lose them; she would destroy them if only through lack of appreciation.
He moped about this for almost two weeks, all the time keeping a solicitous ear out for any hint of Luella's declining health. Finally, he decided he had just one option: Wait until Luella left the house, then steal the copies.