Required Reading - By Brian Law

He held the small painting, inspecting it closely under the dim light of the garage. “Who the hell is this guy  . . . Monet  . . . anyway?” he asked gruffly. “Never heard of him.” 

“It’s pronounced ‘Monay’, Gregory. He’s French and I’m told that it could be of value. Let’s say ten dollars, shall we?” the little thief ventured, looking around nervously. 

“Two bucks,” he countered. He’d lost money before on art, even on paintings that weren't blurry. 

The little thief just shrugged and took the money. He was in a hurry and had to see a man about something else. Something that made his jitters go away for a while. 

Ten minutes passed, and someone rapped on the fence’s door. He knew who it had to be and let him in. He hadn’t had time to put the little blurry painting away yet, and the man who walked in just stared at it and said nothing. 

“You just going to stand there and stare or are you here about the clock?” Gregory growled at the man as he covered the little painting and slipped it into a drawer. 

“The clock, oh, yes, the clock,” the man said, quickly recovering. “Yes, I’ve come for the clock. I have the money.” 

The fence reached down and retrieved the item he’d wrapped in cloth earlier. Setting it down on the counter and removing the cloth, he told the man, “Thirty-five bucks, as we agreed.” 

“Yes, of course. Here’s your money,” the man replied, handing over the bank notes and taking the clock into his soft, well-manicured hands. He knew full well that the clock was worth hundreds in New York and even more in London. Gregory was an idiot when it came to the real value of some things, he thought to himself. It was nineteen hundred and two, for God’s sake,  and even an oaf like Gregory should be more aware, he mused as he said, “And thank you, Gregory, for contacting me first. But I must say, you drive a hard bargain.” 

“Anything else on your mind?” Gregory wondered aloud, remembering the man’s earlier interest at the little painting now resting in the drawer near the fence’s left knee, and also knowing that the man still held a large wad of bank notes inside his left jacket pocket. 

The man pretended to look around the garage and then asked, “Any recent acquisitions? Sculptures, paintings, things of that sort, Gregory?” 

“Maybe,” the fence replied, playing his cards close to his vest. “Anything in particular?” 

“Well, I’m redecorating my home and I’m looking for a nice blue-green painting to match the curtains and the rug. Nothing too expensive, you know, and smallish. Discrete,” the man explained. “If you run across something like that, I’d be interested, Gregory.” 

Gregory reached down and opened the drawer and as he did, he carefully watched the man’s face. The fence had played poker since the Gold Rush when he was just a kid and he knew what to look for. Sure enough, there it was. The man couldn’t hide his excitement. The artery on his neck was bulging behind his starched collar! 

“Well, I just came into possession of this little painting,” Gregory said as he held it in his hands just a few inches above the desktop. “It’s by some Frenchie. Blue-green, like you wanted.” He continued to watch the man’s artery swell as he added, “But it didn’t come cheap. No, it didn’t come cheap. I had to pay through the nose for this hazy little daubing.” 

Realizing that the bidding had begun, the man leaned in for a closer look. “Monet? Hmmmm.” 

“I heard it was pronounced ‘Monay’, but that’s all I know. If you’re interested, you can have it for three hundred bucks. Firm,” Gregory announced, knowing exactly how the dandy little man would react. 

“Well, it’s certainly the right color. And I like the pond and water lily setting. But that’s too much, Gregory. Perhaps when you acquire something else, you could contact me. I’m still at my Nob Hill address,” the man replied, full-well knowing that he would return again in a few days and restart the bidding for this little treasure at a lower price. 

“I will keep you in mind, sir.” 

And with that, the dandy left the shop knowing in his heart that he was just a few dollars away from owning one of the most precious works of art the world had ever known. One thing bothered him, though, was that the idiot, the one they called ‘The Saint’, would be handling the little treasure with his rough, stupid hands for the time being. 

Gregory St. Germaine smiled as he gently wrapped the little painting in clean cloth and took it into a special place he had  for very special things. Locking it away, he sat down and poured himself a glass of well-earned Chateau d-Yquem sauterne. As he relaxed, he reached over for the large book he’d been reading in French before his customers had arrived. 

It was the only copy known to be in America and he turned to page forty-one, a page he had visited many times before. There was the blurry little painting in all its glory. 

‘The Saint’ wept, his hardened heart softened by the indescribable beauty he beheld. 


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