My Mother’s Foot (L)
Amy‘s streaked blond hair was pulled up in a pony tail, her sunglasses fit snugly on top of her head, and her iPOD was delivering Leonard Cohen’s raspy voice. She muttered to herself as she flipped through piles of dusty newspapers, computer print-outs and case files. A track shoe could go missing here for weeks, she mused. She flopped down on a weathered old sofa to get a different vantage point for finding the missing runner and her eyes were drawn to Marvin’s end of the room. Everything was organized and spotless. Even the dust glinting in the Monday morning sun shunned his space. “I should have lost it over there,” she muttered.
The door flew open and Marvin entered carrying a coffee cup and waving a newspaper. Amy envied him the energy he exuded. Was she ever like that? He’d recently celebrated his twenty-first birthday, but no way was that boy moving into adulthood without a fight.
”Guess what, boss? Page three has an article on the ‘Sleuthing Duo’ from Southlands. They’ve messed up the story as usual, but they spelled our names right. This article will pull in more clients for us.”
Marvin’s shirt was more outlandish than usual but it suited his personality. ‘Web Master’ was written in fluorescent pink script across his chest. When she was his age, Amy remembered wearing black suits to work and thinking she looked hot. Her smile was for his shirt and the memory, not for the article in the paper. ”Do we really want more clients like the last ones? When I started this business, I had visions of a Vancouver version of the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, a little spying on truant kids or wandering husbands, but that last case was in the big leagues. We should draw the line at murder.”
“Yeah, we’ve moved up a notch, boss. But it should be the sleuthing trio. We couldn’t have solved the case without Jim”.
Marvin was referring to their neighbor across the hall. Three years earlier, Jim sold Amy his private investigator’s business. It amounted to an office in a reasonable location and a handful of previous clients who might bring in more work. But Jim wasn’t ready to retire, so he took over a pet insurance business, avoided most of the leg work and could spend enjoyable hours perusing the internet. His new occupation gave him time to show Amy and Marvin the ropes and lend a hand on a couple of their more interesting cases. Marvin was right. They owed Jim a lot more than the occasional bottle of 12-year-old malt scotch.
Amy’s blue eyes lit up when she spotted her missing runner in the paper recycling bin. She was just tying the laces when her 70-year-old grandmother came storming into the office, silk scarf flying, high heels tapping, and lines of concern marching across her aging face. She waved a rolled up copy of the newspaper.
As usual, Evelyn was dressed in the latest fashion. Amy would never forget her motto that you might as well be dead when you can’t wear your heels. It made Amy groan at the time, but she had to admit that her grandmother had grit and a body that refused to act its age. Amy patted the seat beside her but she wasn’t surprised when Evelyn ignored the niceties and appeared ready to launch into a tirade.
“I see you’ve found the article,” she said, jabbing at the paper Marvin was reading. Her lip curled up slightly when she saw his shirt. She picked at the corner of the collar to confirm the fabric. “What does web master mean? Do you make spider webs?”
Marvin was about to answer when Amy interrupted. “Marvin was just going over the highlights of the newspaper article, but I’m not sure the sleuthing duo wants to specialize in locating dead bodies.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Evelyn asked, furrowing her brow again. She grabbed Marvin’s copy of the paper to see what he was reading. “No, not that article,” she said, dismissing their accomplishment with a single wave of her hand.” It’s the Sander Rudd exhibit on Granville Island.” She handed Amy her copy folded to the article.
Amy was amused. She should have realized that Evelyn wouldn’t have visited to congratulate her on solving a difficult case, even one that merited a headline above the fold. Evelyn was disappointed when Amy gave up her job as a bank executive to open a detective agency. For Evelyn, appearances were a substantial part of personal satisfaction, and she viewed Amy’s current occupation as a demotion. Amy glanced at Evelyn’s newspaper article. She stood up suddenly and stared more closely at the image on the page. “It’s my mother’s foot”, she announced loudly, confusion evident as she stared at Evelyn for an explanation.
“I know I’ve seen that painting before,” Evelyn offered, “but how could I?”
Marvin crumpled his brow and crossed the room to peer over Amy’s shoulder. “What do you mean, your mother’s foot?”
The article occupied an entire page of the weekend Sun and included a color photograph of a painting. The detail, even poorly reproduced was impressive. The painting showed the interior of a room decorated in a somewhat dated style, with stainless steel and black leather sofas, a glass-topped coffee table and two minimalist paintings. A large Persian carpet provided the only color and complexity. The variations in color and the central tree-of-life motif suggested a Kerman Ravar carpet. Marvin loved beautiful carpets and he recognized that one because it covered the floor in Amy’s apartment. The real shock was the foot painted in the bottom right corner. The rest of the body was lying, thankfully, out of the field of view.
“That was the night she died,” Amy said. “It’s etched on my brain. I was nine years old. I came home from school and she was lying at the bottom of the stairs. She’d been drinking”. She took a breath and added more quietly, “An awful accident.” Amy slumped back onto the sofa, handing Marvin the paper.
“What is your living room and your mother’s foot doing in a painting by this guy?” he said squinting down at the caption.
“How would I know? It’s a painting of a room thirty years ago, an exact reproduction, as far as I can tell.” Amy heard the frustration but also confusion in her voice.
Until he spoke, no one had noticed Jim standing in the doorway. He was wearing a baggy jogging outfit. “Does this mean the game is a-foot?” he asked, looking intrigued by the conversation.
“Good one, Jim,” Marvin snickered until Evelyn and Amy glared at him.
“I’m sorry, that was insensitive,” Jim said. “May I see the article?”
Marvin handed Jim his paper, and Jim started scanning, “There’s not much here. There are only twelve paintings in the show, apparently created here in British Columbia. The artist, Sander Rudd, is 72 years old. It says he painted them over a couple of decades. His paintings include a body part, considered to be his signature feature.” Jim looked up, “Just like a serial killer.” The stern looks he received sent him back to the article.” Rudd never shows the whole body because he says it’s not meant to be the focus of the painting. He hasn’t sold much though.”
“Probably too ghoulish,” Marvin said.
“He must have used a photo, Amy said, “but where did he get it?”
“Maybe a police photograph,” mused Jim.”Scenes of the crime, so to speak”. Amy and Evelyn both turned to glare at him again and he quickly added, “I mean accident, scenes of the accident.”
“Are there any photographs in my mother’s police file, do you think?” asked Amy.
“Roger could find out,” Jim offered. They’ve got him working in computer forensics these days. I’ll give him a call and ask.” Jim had been employed for several years by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before tiring of the politics and becoming a private investigator. His friend Roger Arnold was still with the Mounties and had occasionally helped Jim out with a case. Jim had introduced him to Amy when she took over the business. Roger and Amy had worked on a couple of cases and they dated briefly, but somehow they managed to bring out the worst in each other. Once Jim had suggested to Amy that they both wanted to lead when they danced.
“Yes, let’s ask Roger,” Amy said, “and I’m sorry Jim, but I’ll have to cancel our run. I want to see those paintings as soon as I can. You can jog over to the exhibit with me If you like.”
“No thanks. I’ll be more useful if I can find out more about the artist from the internet.”
Amy smiled at Jim’s excuse. Getting him to take up jogging had been her idea. Before she could ask Marvin whether he was coming with her to the gallery, the wunderkind had turned to Jim and offered to help. Amy shook her head at the pair of them, and when Evelyn showed no interest in accompanying her, Amy headed for the gallery alone.
The exhibit was located on Granville Island, a tourist destination under the Granville Street Bridge. Gift stores and craft workshops, boats for rent, and a great fresh food market drew the crowds. Amy entered the small gallery to find it deserted. Twelve oil paintings were arranged around the room, and the painting she immediately recognized as her living room was displayed closest to the door. She couldn’t bring herself to do more than glance at it. The gallery attendant appeared from a back room. She was an attractive if formidable looking woman in her late fifties dressed in black gothic clothing well-suited for the exhibit.
When the door closed, the attendant looked up at Amy’s jogging outfit and came close to a scowl. “Good morning. Please feel free to look around,” the attendant said with a pronounced accent. ”My name is Bettina if you have questions.” She sat down an opened a magazine.
Amy examined a couple of the paintings before asking the woman if she were the gallery owner. “No, but I have worked for Sandor Rudd for many years. He is in Amsterdam now. I am overseeing this exhibit for him.”
Amy’s eyes scanned the room. “I don’t see any little red stickers. Have any of the paintings been sold?”
Bettina shook her head. “These are expensive paintings and the artist is not well-known in Canada. Sandor Rudd believes that the buyer should value the painting as much as he does, and he prices his work accordingly.” Amy examined a painting of a window that opened onto a small yard. There was a bare shoulder in one corner, and the skin appeared almost desiccated. She was frowning when Bettina crept up behind her and said, “You can appreciate the fine detail and the effort his work demands. See the individual tomatoes on the vine? Once the idea comes to him, Sandor works with little rest for many weeks to make everything perfect. He often becomes ill with his effort.”
Not as ill as his subjects, Amy thought. Then she noticed a yellow hold sticker next to one of the paintings and wandered over. Bettina followed her and her breath made the hairs stand up on the back of Amy’s neck. The painting showed a porch with a wooden glider and a corn field in the distance. At the edge of the painting, there was a thin leg clad in jeans and sporting a leather boot so old it should have been put out to pasture.
“Yes, a couple is anxious to buy this one and they have asked me to hold it for them.” Bettina’s face was flushed. “I understand that this porch was part of their family farmhouse. See the cows in the distance, and even a little greenhouse. So sweet.”
Amy considered the nature of Bettina’s relationship with this artist that could engender such enthusiasm for his oddly inspired work. They moved to the next painting that depicted a school room with rows of wooden desks. From the artwork on the walls, Amy guessed it was a grade three or four classroom, and the detail was so fine that she identified a likeness of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The edge of a small body, dressed in a sky blue sweater and skirt, was lying on the floor between two rows of desks. “The body of a child? Really?”
Bettina pursed her lips and nodded. “There was a visitor who was overcome with the entire exhibit, but with this painting in particular. He wrote one word in our gallery book: Gruesome. Rudd’s work elicits strong emotion, as should be the case for exceptional art.”
Give me a break, thought Amy. When Bettina invited her to add her name and comments to the gallery book, Amy took the opportunity to find the person who wrote ‘Gruesome’. The comment was signed by Doug Weyland living in Vancouver. She jotted down his name on her notepad and added her own comment to the book: Congratulations. I never knew I could be so taken aback by an art exhibit. She wanted the name of the couple who had placed the hold, and she wandered back to the painting with the yellow sticker.
“I find this painting truly exceptional,” she said, calling over to Bettina.”Do you think I might purchase it? For the asking price, of course.”
”I would have to contact the couple to give them first refusal,” Bettina said.
“Naturally. Would a deposit do, say fifteen hundred? I would like an answer as soon as possible.”
Bettina perked up at the prospect of a sale and rummaged through papers in a drawer, eventually settling on a piece of pink paper. Amy watched carefully as Bettina entered a phone number, and in spite of the woman’s low voice, she overheard what was said, including the name Mrs. Ferguson. The conversation continued for a while as Bettina explained that the price of the painting was non-negotiable since there was a buyer willing to pay now, not a year from now. There was an argument concerning a meeting with Rudd before the decision was made, but Bettina remained firm.
When she completed the call, Bettina joined Amy in front of the painting of her parent’s living room. To Amy’s annoyance, the artist had entitled it Slip-Up, and the scene elicited so many memories that Amy experienced a brief wave of nausea.
“The painting you admired can be yours,” Bettina said, smiling for the first time.” How would you like to pay the deposit?”
Amy hesitated and finally said, “Actually, I think this painting is a better choice for me. The interior detail is amazing, and I do love this carpet.” She almost added that it would match her décor just to elicit a reaction from Bettina. “If you don’t mind, I’ll change my mind and purchase this piece.” Bettina looked displeased for only a moment. “I’m sorry, but I make it a rule never to purchase a painting before I’ve met the artist. Is it possible to arrange a meeting with Mr. Rudd when he returns from Europe?” Amy slid out a business card from her wallet and handed it to Bettina, leaving no room for discussion. “Just put a hold on it, would you?”
Later that evening, Jim and Marvin appeared at Amy’s apartment to report on Roger’s findings and Marvin’s internet search. As they sat down with beer and chicken wings, Jim flipped open his notepad. “Using the phone number you lifted from the gallery attendant, Roger was able to locate the Ferguson family in Abbotsford, and he talked to the son. The father died five years ago right on that porch, but there were no photos taken at that time, and there are none in the file. He was seventy-four years old and had advanced liver cancer.” Jim put the notebook down and helped himself to another wing.
“How did Rudd do it? Do you think the Fergusons had a photo, and somehow he got a copy?”
“Roger was skeptical. The Fergusons were shocked at the idea of anyone taking pictures of their dead father, and they’d never heard of Rudd until they saw that painting.”
“I’d like to see that porch and confirm the details in the painting,” Amy said.
“Sorry, that can’t be done. The porch along with the house is long gone under a bulldozer.
“Then I need to know why that couple was so anxious to buy that painting.” Amy said. “Would you want a painting with your dead father’s leg?”
“You can answer that one better than I can,” Jim said. “Aren’t you the one who put a hold on a painting of your mother’s foot? Anyway, the Fergusons were pretty tight-lipped, so if there’s a story there, Roger didn’t manage to extract it.”
“I’m not planning to buy that painting,” Amy said, although she wished she could afford to buy it and destroy it. “I just wanted an excuse to meet Rudd. What do you know about the guy who wrote gruesome in the gallery book?”
“Roger hasn’t had a chance to talk to him yet,” Jim said as he smeared a greasy fingerprint on a page in his notebook. “Doug Weyland moved to Vancouver from Pemberton ten years ago. He’s thirty-seven years old, clean record. It occurred to me that this picture must go back much further, because of the school room you described with the old-style wood desks and picture of Trudeau. Maybe Doug was a kid then, and he was in the same classroom as the little girl in the painting.” He looked down again at his notes. “It turns out that Pemberton had only one primary school in the seventies. So I called the current principal, and asked if there were any student deaths recorded between 1970 and 1980. She said she would look into it and get back to me.” That’s all I have so far.”
“Roger found nothing in my mother’s file?”
“There were two photos of your mother in her file, but no details of the room. It doesn’t seem likely that these paintings could be based on police photos.”
“But the details in the painting weren’t just details of the room. They were details of that day in that room. There was a magazine, Architectural Digest on the coffee table. There were coasters and an ashtray that were placed just so, and they appear in the painting.” Amy realized that she was starting to rant.
“Let’s leave that for now,” Jim said, giving her a quizzical look. “Rudd’s story gets more interesting. Rudd is well-known in Europe, but not so much for his paintings. There was an incident in Germany where his exhibit burned down the night before the opening. There have also been two reported thefts of his paintings, and it’s rumored there was an attempt on his life – something to do with tampering with the brakes on his car.”
“I don’t find any of that surprising.”Amy said, wondering how Rudd could be so insensitive to paint what he did. Jim raised one eyebrow and continued.
“A room in one of the paintings was recognized as the site of a possible murder in England, and Rudd was accused of using crime scene photographs to copy the details. He denied this vehemently saying that his paintings came to him as dreams and that he had never seen the actual bodies. There was some discussion that he might have an eidetic memory.”
“I don’t believe that dream stuff for a minute,” Marvin piped in. “Maybe he scopes out the places where deaths occur, takes photos, goes through old newspapers, talks to people, then he adds the body parts.”
Jim nodded. “It’s possible, Marv. The death in the school room and Amy’s mother’s death happened almost 30 years ago, and the paintings appeared years later.”
The doorbell rang and Amy led Evelyn into the living room. Her grandmother was wearing a breezy long evening gown and trailing potent perfume. “Oh, it’s you, Jim,” she said, sounding disappointed to see him. “I was wondering what you’ve uncovered concerning that strange painting,” she said to Amy. “That’s why I left the ballet early.”
“Do you remember where you saw it before?”
“Yes, and no. A few months ago I was in Choices getting my raisin bread – you know the loaf I like. I accidentally dropped it on the floor and a strange older man picked it up. When he handed it back to me, our hands touched for a moment. That’s when I saw the painting in my imagination. It was the same as the one in the newspaper today, each detail identical, and I felt transported back to the night your mother died.”
Amy wondered how many glasses of wine her grandmother had consumed. “Why did you say the man was strange?”
“He was wearing a black cape and a fedora. That outfit took me back a few years. Maybe that’s why I thought of your old home. He spoke to me in a strange accent, and I couldn’t understand him.”
“Was he buying gouda cheese?” Marvin said, smirking.
“What do you mean?” Evelyn said, her irritation obvious even to Marvin.
“He was just wondering if you bumped into our Dutch artist,” Jim explained.
“That’s easy to check. We’ll look on the internet for his photo,” Marvin said. Within a minute he had a picture of Rudd, and Evelyn confirmed it was the same man.
A moment later, Jim’s phone rang, and he moved towards the dining room to answer the call. He mouthed to Amy that it was the school principal from Pemberton. When he returned to the living room, he was scribbling in his notebook and looking pleased with his results.
“Patty Weyland, seven years old, died in November 1979 of a heart attack. Doug was her twin brother and he was in the same classroom. So there we go, a third accidental death, in this case witnessed by the brother.”
“Maybe the deaths weren’t accidental,” Evelyn said. There was an uncomfortable silence until she continued in a hushed voice. “You heard that your mother had been drinking heavily that night, and I imagine that your father may have found her weaving around upstairs. I didn’t see anything, of course, and there were no raised voices, but I did hear a scuffle at the top of the stairs.” At this point she paused and looked down at her lap. ”My son never spoke of that evening. He could have been trying to help her when she slipped. At least that’s what I told myself. It’s what any mother would tell herself.”
Amy squeezed her eyes shut, trying to make sense of what she’d just heard. She was the one that found her mother. Her father wasn’t even there. No one was. When she opened her eyes, Evelyn was wiping away tears. Amy rose and put her arms around her grandmother. “Dad never recovered from that night and now he’s gone too.” Evelyn had taken care of her after her father died and Amy owed her a great deal, but she could not accept that her gentle father would push her mother down the stairs. She saw Jim eying Evelyn with admiration, for the first time.
“That was brave of you, Evelyn,” Jim said. “We can look more deeply into the stories behind the other paintings. These accidental deaths may not be quite what they seem, just like those paintings.”
“If these aren’t accidents that he’s painting, it could explain the threats and the fire,” Marvin said.
“It seems pretty unlikely that anyone involved in these so-called accidents would ever get to see these paintings,” Amy said.
“Yes, but we could give copies of the other local paintings to Roger,” Jim said. Some of the senior detectives might recognize a location or an old case.” Jim got up to leave, rubbing his eyes. “It’s ten o’clock and I’ve got to get home for some shut-eye. I have an appointment in Pemberton tomorrow morning, and it’s a three hour drive.”
The next morning Amy returned to the gallery with her camera. She was hoping to talk Bettina into giving her digital copies of the paintings to pass on to Roger. If Bettina would not provide them, she was prepared to take her own pictures, surreptitiously if necessary.
Bettina was startled to see her, and she looked pale and jittery. “Oh, it’s you. Why are you here?”
“I’m sorry,” said Amy, more reaction than true apology. “I was planning to take another look at the painting and I wondered if you had a larger portfolio of Rudd’s work,” she said, noting Bettina’s red eyes.
“Unfortunately you have poor timing.” Bettina glared. “I have just heard horrible news. He was shot last night at his apartment. The police are investigating his murder. “She slumped down onto her stool and wiped at her eyes.
Amy was shocked. “Rudd was murdered in Europe?”
Bettina looked up, blanching. “No. Here in town.”
“But I understood he was in Europe,” Amy said, surprised and more than a little annoyed.
“I thought so too. But after you left, I contacted his office in Amsterdam to tell them he had a buyer. I was told that he was here, in Vancouver.”
Amy let out an audible sigh. She needed answers that could only be provided by Rudd. “Bettina, I know this is a lot to ask at this time, but I am still interested in purchasing this painting, from his estate now. Do you mind if I take a few pictures?”
“Go ahead. It makes no difference now,” Bettina sighed. She paid no attention as Amy took photos of the paintings. When Amy returned to her office, Marvin took one look at her face and asked what was wrong.
“Rudd’s dead, that’s what’s wrong. Now I’ll never learn the truth.” She handed Marvin her camera, and he started downloading the images.
“Someone was offended by one of his paintings and got rid of him, that’s what happened,” Marvin said, sounding oddly excited by the turn of events.
“You mean someone like me?”Amy said.”Or the Fergusons, or that guy from Pemberton? Maybe dozens of others too.”
Jim entered the office at the end of this conversation, looking concerned. “Marvin’s right, Amy, you’re a suspect now. The detectives on Rudd’s case know you’ve been interested in his paintings because I told them, and Roger has just warned me that we need to keep our distance. I filled them in this morning on the fires and possible attempt on his life in Europe, but Rudd was murdered here, not in Amsterdam, and just a few miles from where you live.” Jim shook his head. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
“What do you think?” Amy said. “I can do a lot without getting in the way of Roger’s murder investigation. A friend in Amsterdam runs a travel agency, and I hope she can put me in contact with Rudd’s people there. But maybe you should sit this one out, Jim. One of us should stay on Roger’s good side.”
“Hey, things are just getting interesting,” he replied without hesitation.
The next day, Amy and Jim sat down in the office over a dozen printouts and as many freshly baked blueberry muffins. Amy opened a thick file of papers she had printed from a document supplied by Rudd’s office in Amsterdam. Marvin had been sent on a secret mission by Jim, and Amy couldn’t get Jim to elaborate.
“Let me tell you what I got from Amsterdam,” Amy said. “Would you believe that Rudd was here in Vancouver thirty years ago when my mother was still alive? That was before he became a well-known artist. He was supporting himself as a photographer and had a job with Architectural Digest. What I found most interesting is that the issue of Architectural Digest on the table in the painting contained some of his photos.”
“I don’t suppose that issue had pictures of your old living room?” Jim asked.
“No, not that issue,” Amy said. “But a few months later, one was published showing the exact scene in his painting, minus the foot of course. They keep records, and the photo was taken two days before her death. According to the gallery contact in Amsterdam, Rudd didn’t actually paint our living room until several years after my mother died.”
“If he had the photos, he could have added the foot to the painting much later, after he found out she died,” Jim said.
“Yes, that makes sense, but the death was ruled accidental.”
“Remember what Evelyn said, that there was an argument with your father? Could Rudd have found out?”
“I’m not sure my grandmother is remembering accurately, but could Rudd have been involved in her death?” Amy liked that idea a lot better.
While they were mulling over the possibilities, Amy’s phone rang. It was Bettina, asking Amy to stop by the gallery as soon as possible. She said she had something important to show her.
Jim looked uncomfortable.” What could she want to show you? Roger will be angry if you stray into his territory, Amy.”
“I can’t see any problem. She thinks I want to buy the painting. Roger can’t complain if I want to buy a painting.” Amy picked up her jacket and left for the gallery.
Standing in a downpour, Amy had to knock on the door several times to get Bettina’s attention. Bettina was pacing nervously, and looked relieved to see her. She unlocked the door and motioned for Amy to follow her to a back room. There was a new canvass propped against the wall. It was plainly the work of Rudd, but for some reason, it was not part of the exhibit. It was a painting of the gallery with the twelve paintings on the wall. “Rudd painted this?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes, but it was not here last week, and it’s still sticky. I do not know when he brought it here.” She lifted it up and moved it under the light. They both examined the work carefully.
“There’s something missing.”
“I wondered how long it would take for you to notice,” Bettina replied. “There is no body part in this one.”
“What do you think that means?” Amy said.
“I think he had not yet decided what to add before he died,” she answered. She started to say more, but hesitated.
“I don’t understand why you phoned me, Bettina. Why did you think I would be interested in this painting?”
Bettina put her hands on her hips and tipped her head. “I knew what you were up to the first day you were here. You handed me your business card with Amy Sinclair, Private Investigator. What do you take me for? Rudd was constantly harassed in Europe because some people thought his paintings depicted murders. What if they were right? What if he was planning to murder someone and paint an arm or leg in this painting?” She was wringing her hands.”I thought you could help, or at least tell me if I’m being crazy.”
“Even if you’re right, we’ll never know now.” She wondered who might have been the intended victim, and she felt that Bettina was holding something back. Perhaps Bettina had reason to be worried that Rudd could be planning an accident for her. Then Amy made the mistake of telling Bettina that she was unable to help as she was considered a potential suspect by the police.
Bettina smiled slyly at this confession. “I wondered why you chose that painting to purchase. I thought you might have a reason to be interested in that particular one, a client maybe. But it seems that it is personal.”
Amy realized that she had said too much. Bettina didn’t press for more information and the woman seemed oddly relieved when she said goodbye at the door.
When Amy returned to the office, Jim was still on the couch, asleep with the newspaper over his face. He stirred when the door closed. “So, what did Bettina show you?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.
“She showed me a new Rudd painting, recently delivered, with no body part.” Amy removed her wet jacket and tossed it onto the filing cabinet where it promptly slid into the recycling bin.
“A painting of what, exactly?”
“Of the gallery. With the twelve paintings. It was still wet.” Amy said smiling at his confusion.
“But there’s always a body part,” Jim mused. “Oh, I get it. He hadn’t added it yet.”
“Bettina seemed overly upset. I wonder if she worried that part of her might appear in the painting,” Amy said. “That would explain why the painting was taken to the gallery. He could finish it, and her, right there.”
They sat back to consider the new information. When Jim asked why Bettina had shown her the painting, Amy was embarrassed to admit that she had given Bettina her business card at the gallery, without thinking what Bettina would surmise. “She assumed I was investigating one of the paintings for a client. But I think she was really pumping me for information. I let it slip that I was a suspect, so she jumped to the right conclusion that I had a personal involvement with one of the paintings.”
“Hmm. You said she looked relieved when you left? I think she showed you the painting so that you’d conclude that she was the intended victim, but what if she brought the painting back with her from Rudd’s after she murdered him?”
“OK, I guess that’s possible too,” Amy said, “but what would be her motive?”
“The police will have to figure that out, and Roger should know of this new painting,” Jim said as he started texting the information.
Just as Jim was finishing, Marvin dashed into the office, smiling like the cat that hadn’t swallowed the bird so he could play with it for a while. “I have some intriguing stories for you two. After our conversation last night, I wondered how Rudd knew to paint those particular scenes. So Jim suggested I try to track down Rudd’s movements to find out if he knew the people in the other paintings. Other than your mother’s painting, we only have stories for two so far, but I can say for sure that Rudd knew them, and knew that he wasn’t painting natural deaths.”
“OK, out with the details,” Amy said, giving him her full attention.
“The Fergusons told me an interesting story, and Roger was right to suspect they were holding back. As we already knew, the father was dying of liver cancer and was told he had only a few weeks to live. What they didn’t tell Roger is that one evening when he was crossing the road from his mailbox, he was hit by a van right outside his farm and he died from a head wound. The driver offered to pay a lot of money if the Ferguson’s wouldn’t tell the police, so they agreed and they placed the father on the back porch just like you saw in the painting, and they told the authorities that he passed out and hit his head on the railing.”
“Marv, how in the world did you get them to tell you that?”Amy asked.
“Well, I kind of said that the police were considering reopening their Dad’s case because of new evidence that it wasn’t a natural death,” Marvin admitted. “I think they jumped to the conclusion that I was working with Roger, and they were worried they would be blamed.”
“Now I understand,” said Jim. “Rudd was the van driver.”
“That’s right,” Marvin smiled. “I showed them his picture and they confirmed it. He never did pay them, but they could hardly go to the police.”
“Amazing,” said Amy shaking her head.”It’s so simple. He knew it was an unnatural death because he was the cause. What about the Pemberton painting?”
“I visited Tim Wayland in Burnaby. He was just a kid at the time, but he remembered his sister dying. She died suddenly which is what the principal told Jim, but the parents never understood why their daughter showed no previous heart problems. They always felt that the Pemberton school was covering up something. When Tim was older, he did some investigations of his own and discovered another possible explanation. It turns out that a few of his classmates, including his sister, were part of a trial for a drug used to treat hyperkinetic syndrome, now called attention deficit disorder. They were given a drug now known to cause sudden death in rare instances. So yes, I’d say that painting may have pointed to another unnatural death.
“How was Rudd involved in this one?” Jim asked.
“I had to drive to Pemberton to find out. We knew Rudd worked as a photographer for Architectural Digest, but he took a second job as a school photographer. That fall he traveled to various schools in the province. He was there in Pemberton taking photos the week she died. I would never have known except that I caught his name beneath the class photo from that year. Then I found a caretaker who put me in touch with a fellow who was working at the school in the late sixties. He remembered Rudd because of his unusual style of dress.” He returned Jim’s smile, and said, “Yes, he wore a cape and fedora. Apparently Rudd was in the classroom that day because he knew how to perform CPR, although he wasn’t able to help the little girl.” Marvin paused and looked for their reactions. “I think it’s important that he was at both of these deaths and could have taken photographs to capture the details.”
Jim patted Marvin on the back.”I am truly impressed, Marvin. That’s great sleuthing.”
Amy looked puzzled. ”The farm case makes sense. Rudd knew that was not a natural death because he was responsible. But that girl? How did he know she didn’t die naturally from a heart defect?”
“Rudd told the caretaker that he didn’t think her death was natural, but he didn’t say why. Maybe he knew about the drug. Besides, it never seems natural when a kid dies like that.”
“We’re as close as were going to get to solving that particular puzzle,” Jim sighed. “Can we agree that we’ve solved the mysteries behind two of the paintings?”
Yes, and it’s a good start,” said Amy, “but there’s a possibility that each of these twelve paintings will tell us an important story. Do you think this is worth going further?”
“There’s one big problem,” Jim said. “Except for yours, we don’t have information on these other paintings, and with Rudd dead, I’m not sure we ever will.”
“There’s always the internet,” Marvin suggested. “Why don’t we put images of the paintings on an interactive web site and see if we get any responses?”
After pondering the idea for a moment Amy said, “I like it. Of course, we’ll need to prime the pump with a couple of good stories of our own, which we just happen to have. And it would bring attention to Rudd’s work, so there would be more potential buyers. I can’t see his estate complaining. There is one small problem. We need someone to design and manage the web site. Marvin, will you agree to act as web master?”
“Would I ever,” said Marvin, with an ear-to-ear grin.”I’ll get right on it, boss.”
“First we need a release from Rudd’s estate. Jim, why don’t we drop down to the gallery before it closes and see if Bettina can give us a contact number in Amsterdam? I’d also like to see how she reacts to the web site idea.”
“Just as long as we don’t have to jog there,” Jim said.
Through the gallery window, they could see two older women, and when they opened the door, they heard Bettina and Evelyn arguing.
“What are you doing here?” Evelyn sputtered as soon as she saw them.
“Why are you two arguing?” Amy asked. “I wasn’t aware that you knew each other.”
“I showed her the last painting,” Bettina said, “after she told me she knew Sandor.”
“Amy, it’s that annoying painting,” Evelyn sighed. “Bettina will not tell me why the artist chose to paint the scene of your mother’s death.” Evelyn glared at Bettina.
“That is a old painting. How would I know anything from that time?” Bettina spat back. “I keep telling this woman I know nothing, but she will not believe me.”
“Bettina,” Amy said, “We’ve discovered that Rudd was present at three of the scenes that he painted. We know he was there at the time of death for at least two of them, and he actually saw the images he painted. They were not his dreams. So don’t tell me you knew nothing.” Jim’s eyebrows shot up but he said nothing.
With a nasty glint in her eye, Bettina stared at Amy.”It is his inspiration, not mine. But I do know that Sandor Rudd had an affair when he was here 30 years ago. “She sat back waiting for that to sink in. Evelyn held her hand to her eyes but was strangely quiet.
“Do you know with whom?” Amy asked.
“No, but I have an idea in my head,” Bettina said smirking.”His paintings were not selling back then, so he worked as a photographer for a magazine. I saw a photograph of that painting. Two years later, I know he painted the picture with the foot. The woman in that painting,” she said,.”I wondered. She was a relative, yes?”
“My mother, but that doesn’t prove she had an affair with Rudd. Why would she do that? She wasn’t like that.”
“Oh, wasn’t she,” Evelyn interjected. “What would you know? You were only a child. Your mother did have an affair with Sandor Rudd, and it broke my son’s heart. She was planning to leave him.” Evelyn stopped short and paled. The gallery was quiet after this outburst.
“You knew this and didn’t tell me? Is this why you thought Dad pushed her down the stairs?”
“He should have. She deserved it. But the fool just cried like a baby when your mother told him she was leaving.” Evelyn seemed to shrink into her chair, but then she straightened her shoulders and looked directly at Amy.”Your father was too soft. I was the one who pushed your mother,” she said, her chin raised and without a hint of remorse.
Amy stared at Evelyn in disbelief. Her body felt oddly light. “Dad said nothing to me,” Amy whispered, but Evelyn heard her.
“I knew he suspected me, but he would never dare ask. He didn’t dare much, that boy.”
“How did Rudd know it wasn’t an accident?” Jim asked.
Evelyn shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “When I met Rudd in the grocery store, I was so angry when I saw him, I said too much. I told him it was his fault your mother was dead. He showed no surprise. I think he had already guessed that it was not an accident,” Evelyn shrugged, “or perhaps your father said something to him. So when Rudd phoned me late Monday night to continue our conversation, I agreed to meet him at his apartment to find out what he really knew.”
Jim stared at Evelyn, “You were in his apartment the night he was killed?”
“Yes,” Evelyn admitted. “I went there after I left Amy’s apartment. The man was out of his mind. He kept saying that I had ruined his life by killing the only woman he had ever loved. Then he caught me by surprise, pushed me into a closet and locked the door. He was gone for hours. It was a horrid place and reeked of turpentine.” Evelyn crinkled her nose with the recollection. “When he eventually opened the closet, he wanted to take me to the gallery. He said he had something important to show me.” She stopped talking abruptly and sat lost in her thoughts.
“Did you go with him?” Jim prompted her after a few moments.
”No, no. I refused to go anywhere with that man.” She stood up and paced the room. Can you believe that he used a gun to threaten me? He said I must go with him or he would shoot me. I just laughed in his face and grabbed for the gun.” Evelyn seemed unaware that she was miming the encounter with Rudd, and the absorbed look on her face startled Amy. “I twisted the gun in his hand. He wasn’t expecting it from an old woman. But he was an old man and it was easy for me. The gun went off in his chest and he dropped to the floor.” Evelyn slumped down in her chair, looking exhausted.
Jim shook his head in disbelief and walked quietly away from the table, pulling out his cell phone.
Bettina’s eyes never left Evelyn. “So, it was you he was planning to add to that painting”.
Evelyn’s laugh was high-pitched and frightening. “Yes, and now someone can paint his body instead.” When she glanced at Amy, her eyes filled with tears.
Amy shuddered.” Evelyn, where is the gun now?” she asked trying to keep her voice calm. Jim paled.
“This little gun?” Evelyn smiled strangely, sliding a shiny Beretta from her purse. “I considered dropping it into English Bay on my way home that night, but it’s so attractive, isn’t it?”
Before anyone could react, Evelyn bent over the pistol and fired into her heart. She grunted as her body lifted from the chair and slid to the floor. A foot enclosed in a Valentino patent pump lay in an expanding pool of blood.