"I think Professor D'Arches has lost it," Dickory announced. In front of them lay sprawled the amassed work of twenty different art students over three and a half years, packed into a dingy storage room: sketches and drawings in wide, flat artists' portfolios, canvases piled together and secured with elastic or jumbled into boxes, all of it labeled with either illegible handwriting or overwrought calligraphy.
"Lost it?" George said. "He never had it." He huffed out a sigh. "How the hell are we supposed to make a sensible exhibit out of this?"
From behind them came a little huff of breath, a noise that could have been either laughter or a disapproval, and Dickory started at the reminder that they weren't alone.
"Oh, sorry, Ann," she said, turning. "I was just… overwhelmed for a moment there."
By the time Dickory could see the department secretary's face, it was back to her customary severe expression, void of whatever emotion she might have possessed. Dickory winced mentally. Almost four years and I still haven't managed to achieve quiet and observant. But instead of saying something sharp Ann merely held out the storage room key.
"Don't lose it," she said. "I have to order a new key at least once every semester and it's a pain. If you do, you'll be responsible for the charges."
Dickory nodded to indicate she understood and took the key. "Thanks."
It seemed this was enough to get Ann to unbend a little, and she gave Dickory the faintest hint of an approving nod before leaving them to it. Dickory tucked the key firmly into her pocket and turned back to the storage room. "Where should we start? Just a quick skim through what's here to see what looks interesting?"
They had exactly seven days before the exhibit opened, first to sift through the morass of work and then to put a selection together in some semblance of a thematic collection, complete with typed labels.
"Yeah, that sounds good," said George, using the box nearest the door to prop it open. "Too bad Harold and Claudia already did all the street signs pictures for their exhibit. That would have been a sure winner."
Dickory couldn't help but roll her eyes at Harold Silverfish's blatant grade-grubbing. "I'm not so sure," she said. She reached for a portfolio and began to flick through it. "Some of that stuff was terrible, and I'm sure D'Arches can't have been pleased at having to look at them all again. Hmm." She pulled out a sketch and passed it over, a drawing of the Empire State Building at dusk, shaded in charcoal." How about this? We could do ‘landscape of New York' as a theme."
By the end of two hours they'd tentatively decided on a theme – portraits – and had created a space on an upper shelf to place the pieces they intend to use, populated with three paintings and a handful of sketches. There were still more than half the boxes and portfolios remaining, however, and George agreed to meet up the following morning, an hour before class.
"By the way," he said, just as Dickory was locking the door to the storage room. "Did you send in your application yet?"
The tiny amount of optimism Dickory had managed to generate over the past two hours dissipated as rapidly as a snowflake on a manhole cover. "Not yet," she muttered. The MFA application to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago was already filled out, tucked inside the copy of the Complete Works of Piero della Francesca that lived on her bedside table. The envelope even had a stamp on it. But she hadn't sent it.
George gave her an exasperated look. "The deadline is next week, isn't it?"
"Yeah," said Dickory. "It's written! I just haven't decided if I'm going to bother."
She must have looked really pathetic because after a moment, George's expression softened. "I'm not going to badger you about it, but you should at least apply. Don't let Donald put you off." Donald had made it clear that he thought Dickory should get a proper job and move out of Garson's place, rather than go halfway across the country and make herself poor all over again. Not because he doubted her talent, he'd been careful to say. It was only that he thought she'd be happier with money. "You can put off the decision about actually going until you find out if you've been accepted or not."
"I know," Dickory admitted. It was good advice. But she knew she wasn't going to take it.
What was more, George seemed to know it, too, because all he said was, "Just think about it, okay? And I'll see you tomorrow?"
"I will. See you." They parted in different directions, George to the back of the building and Dickory out front, past the department's main desk. She gave Ann a half-hearted wave as she passed and got a nod in return, then went out through the doors onto 2nd Avenue.
Outside, it was raining, a slow drizzle that did nothing to lighten her mood, especially since she hadn't remembered to bring an umbrella. She trudged home, thinking about the application. George was right, surely – it couldn't hurt to apply. But there was a part of her that felt she had to make the choice now, to decide once and for all if she thought she was good enough to try to be a proper artist, or if she ought to give up that dream and get a job in advertising like George or even working for the city like poor Harold. If she was always going to be second rate, then sending in the application would just be a waste of everyone's time.
Probably what she should do, Dickory knew, was ask Garson's opinion. He was an artist, a brilliant one, and he could see to the bare truth of things like no one else she'd ever known. If she wasn't good enough, Garson would know. But she hadn't been able to bring herself to ask him, or even to raise the idea of graduate school in the hypothetical.
Dickory tripped over a discarded soda can, caught herself, and kicked it into the gutter in disgust before continuing on towards home. Up ahead she could just make out the turn off to Cobble Lane to the right off 7th Avenue. As she watched a figure came through the trees out onto 7th and turned, walking in the opposite direction. Dickory's gaze passed over the resentful set of the person's shoulders, vaguely familiar but unidentifiable from this distance. She picked up her pace, feeling suddenly curious, but the figure's strides were longer, and by the time she'd reached the entrance to Cobble Lane whoever it was had disappeared from sight. She shrugged and let herself in.
The house was quiet, though that wasn't unusual. Dickory stowed her bag in the downstairs apartment and went up to see what Garson was doing.
He was painting, a slick portrait of a local businessman that made the man seem like a fine, upstanding member of the community. He'd been in for three sittings already, and Dickory had felt like she wanted a shower every time he looked at her. On the second easel another canvas, Sonneborg's canvas, was draped in its customary red velvet. She still thought of him that way, somehow: Garson and Sonneborg, two separate people living one life. Even his time in jail – even his confession to her about Isaac – hadn't changed that. But at least now he let her look at the Sonneborg paintings when they were finished.
Dickory tidied in silence, not wanting to interrupt him. She knew him well enough now that she could see when he was fighting against himself. Sometimes when she came in he'd look at her right away or after a minute or two, ask questions about class, talk about whoever had been sitting for him recently. Other days – the bad days, Dickory privately referred to them – he would paint on without speaking, as if he couldn't bear to have to pretend to be Garson, but also couldn't bear to be Sonneborg, either.
Today wasn't one of the good days. Garson painted for a solid three hours, his hand steady as he made small, precise additions of paint to the canvas. Dickory finished screwing caps on tubes of paint and folding costumes, then sat down in the library half of the studio and started on her reading. The midterm exam for D'Arches' curatorship class was only two weeks away, even if she and George had to do their exhibit project this week as well. Finally, just as Dickory was finishing forty deeply boring pages on the history of the concept of provenance, Garson came out of his funk with a sigh, dropping his brush into the cup of turpentine and heaving out a huff of breath. "Oh, hello, Dickory," he said. He glanced at her briefly, then turned away and walked over to the large mirror in the corner of the studio. "What time is it?"
She looked at her watch. "Four."
"Good," he said. "Not too late. I'm having dinner with the Vogels, but that's not until seven."
"Do you need me to—"
But Garson was already shaking his head. "No, it's fine." He still wasn't looking at her, just studying his own face. Dickory bit a fingernail, wondering whether to say something. Or what to say. Then the doorbell rang, and she hurried away to answer it with relief.
"Oh, hello, Dickory."
"Hello, Chief Quinn," Dickory said. She had negotiated a cessation of rhyming two years ago (in exchange for not calling every one of the plainclothes officers 'Tinkle' no matter which one of them it was), but that hadn't stopped Chief Quinn from looking disappointed every time he thought up a rhyme and then remembered the rule. Today he must have thought up a good one, because the expression on his face went from surprise to delight to disappointment within the span of a few seconds.
She held open the door to let him enter and followed him up the stairs. "Do you have a case for us?" She and Garson had consulted on quite a few cases over the last couple of years, after their insights on those first few had proved accurate, and Dickory had come to enjoy the process of puzzling through evidence in search of the vital clue. It was something she could feel unequivocally good about, catching criminals, even if the spark of genius came from Garson far more often than it did from herself.
"I do," said Chief Quinn. "And it's a doozy, if I do say so myself."
"Afternoon, Chief," said Garson, doffing an imaginary hat. "What have you got for us?"
The chief eyed the act of whimsy with suspicion. "Garson." He set his briefcase on the table in the library and opened it, pulling out a manila folder. "I call it The Case of the Painted Painting."
Once Dickory had made coffee, she joined them in the library, settling into the third wingback chair and pulling over one of the photos that the chief had brought. It was a picture of a painting, framed and hung on a wall somewhere, though she couldn't tell where exactly. The subject of the painting was a pale house, set in the distance and framed with groups of bare trees. The colors were simple, browns and greens and yellows, and the brush marks were spare, lean. "Hmm," she said. She reached for another photo and found, to her surprise, that it was very similar to the other: a house in the distance, two stands of trees, all done in the same style and palette. Not an attempt at forgery, just similarity. Only this one, she could see after a moment, was simply clumsier, the lines thicker and less confident. "Someone obsessed with stealing paintings to match his décor?"
"It's weirder than that. Over the last three weeks," Chief Quinn explained, "there have been five paintings stolen from major galleries and museums in the city. But instead of just stealing them, in each case the thief leaves another painting to take the place of the original, something similar in subject matter and in color. The first one was—"
"One moment, chief," said Garson. "An exercise." He turned the rest of the photographs to face Dickory, and she could see that they, too, were grouped in pairs. "Which is which?"
"This one doesn't count," Dickory said, pulling aside a photograph of a rather nice Monet and its dingy counterpart, "because we went and saw it for class just last week." She considered the others carefully, and after a moment sorted them into two categories. "This one, this one, and… this one are the originals."
Garson gave her an approving look. "Very good." Dickory flushed at the praise and ducked her head to hide it.
"How on earth could you tell?" asked Chief Quinn. "One dancing woman's as good as any other, as far as I can see."
"Don't tell your wife that," said Garson.
The chief glared at him, and Dickory intervened before things could devolve any further. "Countless hours of listening to Professor Smith talk about quality of light, that's all. You should take a night class." This suggestion was strange enough to distract the chief from his irritation.
"Maybe," he said, rubbing his chin. "Maybe. In any case, this is what we have. No witnesses, no fingerprints. All we have are these replacement paintings. My guess is that he wanted the thefts to go unnoticed for as long as possible – that's why he put something in place of what he stole."
"No," said Garson, "no, that's not it. If he wanted that, our thief would have tried forging the originals."
"That's not forging?" said Chief Quinn.
Now it was Garson's turn to glare. "No. A forger would try to make the painting look as similar to the original as possible. Not just something with vaguely the same subject matter and color palette." He traced the line of red in the image of the Jackson Pollock replacement painting with one finger. "This is… ego. Setting up his paintings among the greatest works of history."
Dickory had been examining the paired images of three women, one version a Picasso and one the replacement painting. "There's something familiar about this one," she said, picking up the photo of the replacement. "I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think I've seen something like this before. Not the picture, really, but the style." Garson took the photo from her and looked it over for a long minute.
"It doesn't ring any bells for me," he said. "So that could mean we're looking for a young artist, maybe a student. Maybe not, though – I've been out of the market for a long time."
Chief Quinn pursed his lips. "I was hoping you could work your artist's magic," he said, making a gesture that seemed to encompass both magic and art, though neither in a particularly flattering manner. "You know, figure out where he bought his canvases, or that he paints using his left foot with a brush made from the hair of a Peruvian mountain goat or something."
Dickory shook her head. "Canvas is canvas," she said, "and there's a thousand places to buy it. That won't do you any good. Brushstrokes might tell us something. They're not signed? If it was ego, I'd expect them to be signed."
"Some of them are signed," said Chief Quinn. "But not readably – they've been smudged over with fresh paint. The museum guys tell me it's fresh, that is. I've got some experts trying to see if they can remove it, but it's slow going." He sighed.
The doorbell rang again, and Dickory went down to answer it. "Oh, hello, Dickory," said Finkel.
I'm going to change my name to 'Oh hello Dickory' if this keeps up, Dickory thought, but, mindful of the agreement with Chief Quinn, all she said was, "Hello, Finkel. Looking for the chief? He's upstairs."
"Thanks," said Finkel. He took the stairs up two at a time, leaving Dickory to scramble up behind him. "Chief, they need you back at the station. There's, well— a hand and a foot and nothing else, and—"
"Coming." The chief stood, pushing the photographs towards Garson. "Listen, you two hang onto these and give me a call in the next couple of days to tell me what you think, okay?" In a whirl of cigar smoke, he was gone.
Automatically, Dickory went to the guest room closet and brought out the hats. When she came back down, Garson was standing at the mirror again. He took the hat from her, but instead of putting it on he merely turned it over in his hands, watching them in the mirror. "Dickory..." he said, hesitant. "Is—" He stopped.
God, he's being even weirder than usual today, Dickory thought. Then suddenly he turned and met her gaze, and the intensity in his eyes made her heart thump in surprise. She'd seen his eyes up close before: sometimes kind, sometimes cold. But never like this. It seemed as if he was looking for something, looking right inside her, and for a moment Dickory felt both exhilarated and frightened. And then he turned away, the tense set of his shoulders easing abruptly.
"Nevermind," he said. "Come along, Captain Kod. The game is afoot!" He flipped the deerstalker onto his head in one smooth movement.
Oh, Dickory thought, a little dizzy, and then, What just happened?
"Now, brushstrokes, brushstrokes," Garson said, slipping into his British accent. "Captain Kod, you are out of uniform! You cannot expect to catch a criminal without your uniform."
Dickory put her hat on, said, "Yes, Inspector Noserag," and stopped thinking about anything else.
Firmly ensconced in his persona, Inspector Noserag put a photograph of a painting into her hand, the one with the house and the trees. "What do these brushstrokes tell us, Captain Kod?" He steepled his hands in front of his chest.
Dickory held the photo closer to her face and traced the line of one of the trees with a finger. "Slanting to the right as they go downward," she said. "Therefore, the artist is right handed." After Garson's lecture on right-handed versus left-handed hatching techniques, Dickory had attempted to observe the effects of her own hand in different media. Her ink hatching went from right to left, exactly as he'd said, but her painted strokes, even supposedly vertical strokes, tended to slant towards the right at the bottom of the stroke.
"Good work," Inspector Noserag pronounced. "What else?"
Why am I doing all the work here? Dickory wondered, but tried to come up with something else to say. Other than 'third-rate,' which was obvious. "Uh." He was looking at her expectantly, and after a moment she blurted, "All the same size?"
"Is that a question, Captain Cod?" said Inspector Noserag.
"All the same size," said Dickory, more firmly.
"He's only using one brush," said Garson, dropping out of character for a moment. "And consider the texture."
Dickory dutifully considered the texture for a moment, but since she was working from a photograph it was difficult to see anything other than the glare from the skylight. She tilted the picture, trying to get a better view, but it was hopeless.
"I grant you it's not easy to tell from a photograph," Garson said magnanimously, "but try a different one."
Dickory looked at another photograph, then a third. Finally she gave in. "What kind of texture am I supposed to be seeing, Garson? I mean, Inspector Noserag?"
He gave her a look. "Precisely. There hardly is any. The paint is quite thin on the canvas. Ergo, the artist was poor."
Dickory flushed at the memory of her own early painting techniques, but didn't deny the truth of the insight. "So we're looking for a right-handed artist with no money," she said, sarcastically. "Surely there can only be one or two of those in the whole city."
"Patience, Captain Kod," said Inspector Noserag. "We're making progress." Then suddenly he swept off his hat, and was Garson again. "But we'll have to work on the case tomorrow. I'm due at the Vogel's soon."
Didn't he say seven? Dickory thought. It can't be that late. But now that he wasn't wearing the hat, Garson wouldn't meet her gaze. He held out the hat, and Dickory had no choice but to take it. "All right," she said.
"Good," said Garson. And then he turned away, and was gone.
What Dickory really wanted to do was paint, to find that state of mind which came from emptying her thoughts of everything but the canvas. But she hadn't the time, not with the midterm coming up and so much more to do on her exhibit project with George. So instead she read for a while, then cooked dinner, a thrown together pot of pasta with sauce for herself and Isaac; she ate hers bent over another fifty pages of "Cultural Works and Cultivated Disposition," trying not to get spatters on the book. If it was in good condition she could re-sell it at the end of the semester. She read until midnight, until her eyelids were drooping, and then climbed into bed thinking she would drop off immediately.
And now it was three a.m., and she was still awake, hands folded behind her head as she stared up at the ceiling. Even with the lights off and the blind down there was enough light coming in the window for her gaze to trace its outlines.
There was a game she played on these sleepless nights, first invented in the days following her parents' murders when she was too afraid to close her eyes. She imagined the shape of the ceiling as a blank canvas, then filled it in with a picture, portrait or street scene or still life or even abstract design. Anything would work, so long as it took up the whole space and incorporated the grey circle of the smoke detector in the far left corner. In Donald's old tenement apartment there had been a water stain, too, a slowly-spreading brown blotch that Dickory had cast in hundreds of roles – a boulder in the park, a monster's eyebrow, a cloud of smoke from the tailpipe of a cab.
Tonight the ceiling was a window with a view of a city skyline. But not New York, the city outside her actual window, in the full flower of spring: instead it was Chicago in black and white, rain-drenched and glimmering with the light of three hundred skyscrapers. It seemed such a romantic place in her imaginings, so clean, so bright. Not like New York.
Even despite living in Garson's downstairs apartment rent-free for three years now, even despite the fact that working as his assistant paid well enough to cover her school tuition and supplies – even despite all of that, there was part of Dickory that still thought of herself as poor. As the girl who came from the tenements, the girl who pawned her watch to pay the electricity bill, the girl whose brother drove a bus for a living and never shut up about it. And it was New York, she thought, that wouldn't let her stop being that girl, wouldn't let her forget. If she could just leave New York, maybe she could make a new life for herself. Be someone else.
But there were things she didn't want to leave. She'd miss knowing the city, knowing all the parks and secret places to paint that only locals ever saw. She'd miss George, who had become a good friend. She'd miss trying to come up with ways to make Isaac laugh. She'd miss solving crimes for Chief Quinn.
She'd miss Garson.
And once she let herself think about missing him, all the other things followed. It was dark, and she was alone, and so she could admit that she was attracted to him. She'd noticed he was good looking right from the start – tanned, trim – but it had been a cold attractiveness, almost bland. Off-putting. It hadn't been until she'd seen him lose control that she'd begun to want him.
What would he be like, if she kissed him? Would he be as passionate, as intense, as he was with the few things that he truly cared about? Would he put his hands in her hair? Would his lips be warm?
The ceiling's image changed, Chicago melting beneath the rain to be replaced with an image of his face, those blue eyes looking kindly into hers. Dickory closed her eyes briefly against her imaginings, but it didn't help.
This was why she hadn't been able to ask Garson about Chicago. Because if he said go, it would mean she was good enough. But it would also mean that he wasn't asking her to stay.