Monet for Nothing

fiction by Lee Hammerschmidt

Monet for Nothing by Lee Hammerschmidt

Image: Public domain
Claude Monet, “The Houses of Parliament, sunset.”

“Cripes, Rook,” Boggs said. “What the hell did you paint this with anyway? A six-inch house-painting brush and a roller? Jeez, you call yourself a forger and you bring me this shit?”

“Hey, it’s been a while,” I said. “I’m a little out of practice and this was a pretty short-notice gig. An artist doesn’t like to be rushed. You know I’m into documents these days.”

Documents. As in passports, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and other age-altering, identity-changing paperwork that folks of a dubious nature looking for an “image re-imagination” might need. Not nearly as lucrative as faking famous artworks, but it bought the Budweiser.

That’s how I had been re-united with Boggs. Seems he was ready to pull another one of his Dashing Gigolo meets Older Rich Widow/Divorcee rip-off scams and he needed some fresh docs for a quick exit, stage left. One thing led to another and he offered me 10 gees to crank out a quick Monet. Houses of Parliament. Piece of cake. My specialty. Hell, it was everybody’s specialty. Like the old saying goes, of the 5,000 paintings Monet did in his lifetime, 20,000 were painted in the U.S. alone. Hey, I’d done at least 20 myself dating back to my art school days.

“You also told me quality wasn’t really a big issue,” I said. “I thought your latest, uh, paramour had vision issues and was into her Pinot pretty heavily. If that’s the case, hanging up here on the wall with the lights dimmed you should have plenty of time to complete your transaction and split the scene before she notices.”

“Okay, okay, calm down,” Boggs said. “I’m sorry. But, I’m under a lot of pressure here. I gotta get this thing to my buyer and myself out of the States before Bette Davis, Jr. comes to!”
“Yeah, where is your prom date anyway?”

“Downstairs on the credenza, sleeping off the dinnertime tryptophan and tannins. Lucky for me she drank enough to conk out or I was probably going to have to sleep with her to put her down for the count. Yeesh! I don’t think I could handle that one more time!”

“Aw, c’mon, she’s not that bad.”

“Ha!” Boggs said. “For an old geezer like you, maybe not. But for a dashing, suave bole, jet setting man-of-the-world like myself, well let’s say I’ll just be glad to take a hiatus from the Depends set for a while and start commingling with hoi polloi hotties I deserve!”

“Depends set?” I said. “Why do you call them that?”

“Because, do you know what it’s like going down on an old babe?”

“What?”

“Eh, Depends! Ha! Get it? Depends. Like the…”

“Yeah, alright, I get it! Let’s finish this up and get out of here. The original’s down in your Escalade.” I held out the keys. “Now if you’ll give me my fee, we can both get the hell out of here.”

“I paid you your fee,” Boggs said. “Now give me my keys!”

“You paid me for the passport,” I said. “You still owe me for the painting and help with the switch. Now, fork it over or I just might hit the emergency alarm on the fob and snap Snow White out of her slumber!”

“Alright, hold your water. Jeez, a little bookkeeping mix-up and you come all undone.” He reached into the inside pocket of his garish polyester dinner jacket and pulled out a diamond necklace, matching earrings, a Cartier watch and… well, well… some silk ladies’ panties and fishnet stockings.

“Oops, those last two items are for me,” Boggs said. “Heh, heh. A little souvenir if you know what I mean. But all the jewelry is yours. Diamonds! A girl’s best friend! She’ll be so wigged out about the painting, she won’t even notice some missing jewelry. And, hey, it’s worth more than our agreed-upon fee. Don’t thank me; consider it a bonus for the quick turnaround. Now take it and scram!”

“I don’t think so, pal,” I said. “Our agreement was cash, and cash only. I’m not dealing with all the bullshit of having to fence that stuff. I’m not even sure they’re real. Now show me some cabbage, pronto! I’m not going to say it…”

Before I could finish my sentence, Boggs tossed the loot in my face, causing me to flinch. He went back inside his jacket again and pulled out a small automatic pistol.

“Now look, Rook,” he said. “This is your last chance. Take the goods and beat it or I pop you now. This little number will do the job just fine from this range and the sound will be minimal. Candice won’t even wake from the Land of Nod. Hell, I’ll just drag her passed-out, bony ass up here, put the piece in her hand, fire another one into your pathetic hide and it will look like she shot a burglar. You’ll have the merch in your mitts. She’s so hosed she won’t even remember a thing.”

“Candice?” I said. “Holy shit! Are we talking about Candice Peccarino? Ex-wife of Ambrose Peccarino? The local racketeer, mobster, thug, and renowned art collector? This is his Monet?”

“It was until the divorce. And boy does he want it back bad. And what Ambrose wants, Ambrose gets. One way or another. Now, are you gonna take the goods and hightail it or do we move on to Option B?”

Whoa, Boggs was working for Ambrose! And he was one bad stretch of blacktop. Time to steer clear.

“Okay, Boggs,” I said. “I’ll take the jewelry as payment.”

“Good decision, Sport,” Boggs said. “Now take off.”

I turned and headed for the outdoor stairs of the upstairs bedroom deck from which I had entered and made the swap when suddenly a blow to the back of my head dropped me to the carpet like a shovel-full of manure. I tried to rise, but a Gucci-clad foot caught me in rib cage, halting my ascent to the vertical world. I felt the barrel of the gun press against my temple.

“Sorry, Rook,” Boggs said. “But on second thought, I think I’ll go with Option B. Makes everything tidier. No hard…”

“Boggsy, Oh, Boggsy,” a sultry, boozed-soaked, Virginia Slims-ravaged female voice called from the downstairs stairwell. “Are you up there Boggsy? Mama’s ready for her dessert!”

“Shit!” Boggs barked. “She’s awake! I can’t have her conscious for Option B! I gotta get out of this place. Looks like it’s your lucky day, Rook.”

Boggs brought the butt of the gun down on my noggin again and made a beeline for the exit, as I was making one for Snooze Town. Yeah, my lucky day.

I came to with a different gun pointed in my direction. This one in the hands of a quasi-attractive 60ish woman hovering over me.

“Where’s Boggs?” she asked as she bent down and helped me sit upright against the wall. The voice had lost a lot of the ragged edge. And she sure wasn’t that drunk. Ah, the old trough-under-the-table trick.

“On the way to see your ex,” I mumbled.

“You make the switch?”

“Yep.” I nodded up at the wall.

“Jesus, Rook, what did you use to paint this…”

“I know, I know!” I said. “There was a pretty tight deadline. I spent so much time on the quality of the first copy that was on the wall that it was down to the wire on that one. Plus with the second one being so crappy, it didn’t give Boggs much to compare the first one to. He thinks he got the original. He had no idea they both were fakes.”

“Well,” Candice said. “Ambrose will certainly be able to tell, and no one pulls a fast one on Ambrose. Poor Boggs. I’d hate to be in his Speedo.”

Yeah, too late for that.

“Where is the original, anyway?” I asked as a slid myself upright against the wall on rubbery getaway sticks.

“On my yacht heading for Cordoba Cay. I’ll head down there myself after I deal with the police and settle the insurance claim on the ‘theft’ of the original. I’ll relocate to the tropics permanently with the payoff I’ll get.”

“Here, add this to the claim,” I said handing her the necklace. “It’ll look more like a burglary than just an art heist.”

“I will, but you keep it. Consider it part of your fee.”

“And what’s the rest of my fee?”

She leaned in and kissed me on the lips, her hand slipping inside the collar of my shirt, caressing my chest.

“What, I need to paint you a picture?”

Lee Hammerschmidt is a Visual Artist/Writer/Troubadour who lives on the fringe of Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Big Pulp, Gumshoe Review, Stealing Time, Crimson Streets, Strange Mysteries, Every Day Fiction, Chicken Soup For the Soul, and more. Check out his hit parade on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/MrLeehammer.

This article originally appeared in the March 23, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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