“An Excellent Fraud”
A Story of “Beauty and the Beast”
(originally published at BatBLand for
(originally published at BatBLand for Vincent's Birthday 2014)
By Judith Nolan
“Are you really sure about this, Cathy?” Charles Chandler frowned at the
artworks filling the walls of the auction room. “It may be the first of
April, but I hope you’re not trying to pull some April Fool’s joke on
me. I mean, if you need something for your apartment, surely it’s better
if I take you to any good gallery in the city. Forgeries like these just
seem to reek a little of a lack of taste. And a lack of…a lack of…” He
waved his hands helplessly.
“Of class…?” Catherine sighed as she turned from her inspection of a
nearby canvas to look up at him. “Face it, Dad. As much as you love to,
you can’t buy everything for me. This is my one chance to own a Monet or
a Picasso at a fraction of the original’s price and most of them are
hanging in the
“I still don’t like it.” Her father frowned. “But I must
admit the man who painted these was a true artist. It’s a shame he was
yet another victim of a senseless homicide in
Catherine mused, studying the signature. “Funny how this forgery was
painted only last year, but the original is exactly one hundred years
old. And yet they look the same. I’ve always liked it whenever I’ve gone
to the museum. I think I’m going to bid for this one and a couple of the
others. But this has such beautiful colours. It looks like a glorious
“Well, remember this is a silent auction.” Charles pointed to the sheet
of paper pinned to the small table beneath the painting. “And it looks
like someone is already really keen on owning it. They’ve outbid
everyone else so far.” He whistled low and long. “And they’re willing to
pay a pretty penny for it too. Cathy, I think you’d do better to bid on
something else less expensive like that landscape over there.”
“The auction has only just begun…” Catherine frowned at the neat line of
writing, offering the latest price and the bidder’s number beside it.
“Well, I like it too.”
She picked up the pen, crossed out the previous bid and added hers. She
looked around the room, but no one seemed to be taking any interest in
“Maybe you’re right, after all. I guess the office could do with a new
painting or two.” Charles surveyed the rest of the room. “It is for a
good cause. I wonder if the guy copied anything by Renoir or Degas –
someone I might recognise…”
“Stick with me, I’ll make a believer out of you yet, Dad.” Catherine
An hour later she returned alone to view the painting once more. Her
father had left to keep an appointment he couldn’t miss. Due to the
intense interest, the auction had been extended and Catherine decided
not to go back to the office with him. Besides she hadn’t secured her
She looked down at the sheet of paper. Someone had crossed out her bid and replaced it with their own. And then the original bidder had outdone that one. And this time they’d substantially raised the price as well. Catherine caught her bottom lip between her teeth, trying to decide what to do. What the determined bidder offered had taken the painting well beyond what she was willing to pay. And the auction wasn’t due to close for another hour.
She looked around the room again but, as before, no one seemed to be interested in her next move. The determined bidder was very elusive indeed.
In a rash moment she picked up the pen and doubled the price. Let
them chew on that!
She walked away, slipping into the crowd, but turned back after several steps, moving behind a fixture where she could observe and not be readily seen. She didn’t have long to wait. A well built, dark haired man of medium height approached the painting. He leaned down to stare at what Catherine had written. He looked up to scowl around the room, before turning back to the piece of paper. With firm strokes he crossed out Catherine’s latest bid and replaced it with his own.
Catherine left her hiding place, slipping up behind him as he put down
the pen. She was in time to hear him mutter, “Take that, then.”
“You seem to want this painting very badly,” Catherine observed. “Do you
appreciate fine art?”
The man’s head snapped around and he frowned at her. “I…no way, not me.”
He huffed a short laugh. “It’s for a friend. A very good friend. He…he
couldn’t make the auction. But I know he’ll like it. Great use of
“I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to pay such a large amount of
money for a fake.” Catherine extended her hand. “My name is Catherine.
I’m number 63, and you just outbid me – again.”
“Joe 34…” The man shook hands quickly. He shrugged, looking harassed.
“But this auction is taking too damn long and I gotta be back at work
soon or my boss will throttle me. I’m an assistant D.A. with the city.”
“Ah, small world.” Catherine smiled, shaking her head. “I’m in corporate law myself. Well, my father is and I work for his firm. But I’ve taken the afternoon off.”
“Business must be bad if all you can afford is fake artworks.” Joe
grinned, before he glanced at his watch. “Say, you wouldn’t like to do
me a really big favour, would you? One overworked lawyer to another. I
know it’s a real imposition and I hate to ask, but since they’ve
extended the auction deadline, it’s going to make me late for a
depositions hearing. And I really want this painting…”
“For a very good friend…” Catherine considered him closely. “And so you
want me to bid on it for you.”
“Geeze, you are quick.” Joe threw up his hands. “I know you want the
thing for yourself, but if you wouldn’t mind…? I’ll owe you big time.
There’s plenty more to choose from here.”
“I guess there is.” Catherine shrugged. “Since it’s for an excellent
cause and a good friend, I suppose there are other paintings in the
gallery that would look equally as good on my wall. If you’re sure you
can trust me…”
“Any time. You look honest enough to me, even for a high flying
corporate lawyer. Thanks, I’ll owe you one, Catherine.” Joe pulled a
card from his inside jacket pocket and held it out. “And if you ever get
tired of corporate law, then come over to the dark side and look me up.
We can always use a first class brain and I promise you, you’ll never be
bored. My number’s on the card.”
Catherine shook her head. “My father would have seventy different kinds
of fit if I ever tried to leave the firm. But thanks, Joe.”
“Well, don’t work too hard. Not that your lot ever do.” Joe grinned to
take the sting out of his wry observation. “And thank you. If you could
arrange delivery of the painting to my office over at the
Catherine put out a detaining hand as he turned away. “So, what did this
very good friend do for you, that he rates your going to so much trouble
to give him such an expensive gift?”
“I…he saved my life one night a couple of months ago, in the park.” Joe’s evasive look seemed to suggest he didn’t wish to impart too many details. “I was careless. There was a prime suspect in this guy’s murder case…” He waved a hand around at the paintings. “I was trying to apprehend him, when he pulled a knife on me. My friend…well, he prevented him from using it…” He frowned once more at his watch. “So I owe him big time. Look, I really gotta go. Thanks again for helping me out here.”
Catherine was left to stare after him as he hurried away. She looked
down at the card. Joe Maxwell the legend said Assistant
District Attorney Manhattan.
She opened her purse and put the card inside. She glanced back at the painting. Vincent 87…she studied the signature with renewed interest, wondering what was so special about the painting that Joe Maxwell had to have it at any price...
Eight months later…
“Go home, Radcliffe.” Joe stood before Catherine’s desk, his fists
balled on his hips. “There’s nothing here that won’t wait until Monday.”
“That’s easy for you to say…” Catherine scowled up at him, replacing the telephone receiver in its cradle. “I’ve already got a dozen new cases pending on Monday and – ”
Catherine wrapped the book carefully in gold and red embossed paper. She
had gone to
Catherine knew Vincent would love the book. There was so much colour, so many vibrant scenes. All the colours that were rare in his subterranean world. She had leafed through the book before wrapping it, smiling with anticipation.
So much the better for seeing you again, my love she wanted to say, but didn’t. “Yes…” She nodded, smiling up at him. “And I wanted to see you too. You are always in my thoughts.”
He has decided to stay…Catherine relaxed then, on a small sigh of contentment, her face half-buried in the softness of his padded vest, with its vividly remembered scents of candle smoke and leather. This was where she belonged, where she felt safe and cherished.
“It is an incredible gift…” Vincent opened the cover slowly, sifting through the contents with deliberate slowness, savouring every picture in turn. “The colours are truly amazing. Thank you.”
Vincent shook his head. “Two nights ago a good friend of mine and valued helper to our world sent down a message, asking me to meet him at the drainage tunnel entrance. He too brought me a Christmas gift.” Again he traced the bright gold of the sunflowers. “He insisted I accept it in exchange for saving his life one night in the park. The night we first met.”
“I don’t see…” Catherine tried to make sense of what Vincent was trying to tell her and then she gasped. “Oh, Vincent, do you mean…are you saying it was Joe?”
Catherine sat back, unable to assimilate the information. It all seemed
too incredible. “All this time and I never guessed…Joe, of all people.
Remind me never to play poker again with that man. He truly is an
excellent fraud and a wonderful friend. Wait until I see him on Monday…”
“Good heavens…” Catherine sat back, unable to assimilate the information. It all seemed too incredible. “All this time and I never guessed…Joe, of all people. Remind me never to play poker again with that man. He truly is an excellent fraud and a wonderful friend. Wait until I see him on Monday…”
“Vincent 87…” Vincent traced the signature once more. “It does seem as if it was all meant to be…”
“Yes…” Catherine put the book aside before she moved in between his upraised knees, leaning down to take his face in her hands, looking deep into his incredible sapphire eyes. “It is all meant to be, all of it…all you have to do is believe…” Slowly, intently, she traced the shape of his mouth with one fingertip before stroking the backs of her fingers down the curve of his cheek, coming to rest against the strong pulse that beat in the base of his throat where her fingers became tangled in the leather laces of his shirt.