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Authors: Dan Andriacco

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Rogues Gallery

BOOK: Rogues Gallery
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Title page

Rogues Gallery

A Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody Case Book

Dan Andriacco

Publisher information

2014 digital edition by Andrews UK Limited

www.andrewsuk.com

First edition published in 2014

© Copyright 2014 Dan Andriacco

The right of Dan Andriacco to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998.

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without express prior written permission. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted except with express prior written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1956 (as amended). Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damage.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious or used fictitiously. Except for certain historical personages, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and not of MX Publishing.

Originally published in the UK by MX Publishing

335 Princess Park Manor, Royal Drive,

London, N11 3GX

www.mxpublishing.co.uk

Cover design by
www.staunch.com

Dedication

This book is dedicated to

ERIN DWYER ANDRIACCO

and AMANDA ANDRIACCO

Art in the Blood

I

“But I don't want to be dragged to an art gallery,” I complained to Lynda about a week before the opening. “I had enough of that on our honeymoon.”

“Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd hear Jeff Cody say - ‘I had enough of that on our honeymoon.'”

“Very droll. Don't change the subject.”

She put her arms about me in a most distracting fashion. “I'm not dragging you anywhere, tesoro mio.” But her husky voice shifted into persuasion mode. I love it when she's being persuasive. “I'm just saying you ought to go for Kate's sake. It won't kill you, Jeff.”

My lovely wife was right about that. I wasn't the one killed.

Kathleen Cody McCabe, my big sister by thirteen months, is a successful illustrator, mostly of children's books. But the “Art in the Blood” exhibit at the Looney Ladies Gallery was the first public display of her stained-glass work. So when I saw how many people had turned out for the opening show of the new gallery that crisp mid-October night, I was glad I wasn't conspicuous by my absence on her big evening.

The industrial chic building, with open ductwork and track lighting, was packed from one open-brick wall to the other. In one corner of the former hardware store, a woman sitting at a harp played lighter-than-air music that seemed to float above the chatter of the crowd. At the other end of the room, bartender-for-a-night Justin Bird was dispensing locally produced wine and beer. You could tell this was a sophisticated operation because the beer required an opener and the wine a corkscrew.

In between those two action spots, there wasn't a lot of space to move around. I could only wave across the long, rectangular space to Aneliese Pokorny, my administrative assistant at St. Benignus College, and Dr. Trixie LaBelle, my urologist. Looking around the gallery, I quickly spotted Kate and Mac - that's her husband, Sebastian McCabe, who is hard to miss - chatting with Frank Woodford. Everybody knows Frank, editor and publisher of
The Erin Observer & News-Ledger
, where Lynda was news editor before she was boosted up the corporate ladder. Right behind him was the equally familiar Scrappy Smith, a local character with no visible means of support and a penchant for getting into fights. He was talking to a guy with a shaved head and a black goatee - nobody I knew.

“I didn't know there were this many art lovers in the whole town,” I told Lynda.

“There aren't, darling.” She took my arm. “This crowd is all about civic pride, the lure of something new, free drinks and snacks, and maybe a dash of safe feminism.”

“Oh, that explains it.”

And it did. Rosalie Hawthorne, a member of the Gamble banking family and wife of a well-known doctor here in Erin, had won plaudits from all quarters for turning an empty storefront on Mulberry Street into a gallery for showcasing art by women. Ms. Hawthorne happened to be one of the artistic women herself. Several of her sculptural pieces made of old bicycles were mounted on one of the brick walls. This struck me as a waste of perfectly good bicycle parts, not to mention wall space. I may not know art, but I know what I don't like. There was no disagreement about the glitzy new gallery being good for the town, though. That's why Mayor Saylor-Mackie was among tonight's crowd, absorbed in a conversation with the energetic Adam Mendenhall, director of the Shinkle Museum of Art.

“Let's congratulate Kate,” I said to Lynda.

By the time we managed to make our way over to them, Kate and Mac were sipping drinks and exchanging pleasantries with Dr. Dante Peter O'Neill, interim head of the art department at St. Benignus. Though generally classified as a freelance illustrator and stay-at-home mom to the three young McCabe offspring, Kate also had a tenuous connection to the art department as an adjunct professor. That made O'Neill her boss of sorts.

Sebastian McCabe, inexplicably my best friend as well as my brother-in-law, is a big man - not especially tall, but wide - and bearded. He attracts an audience whether he is touting his mystery novels, performing magic, arguing, playing the bagpipes, or lecturing to his students at St. Benignus. And he loves it. Surrounded by people, he is in his element. But tonight he was subdued, figuratively stepping back as if to push Kate forward on her night. I loved him for that.

“Jeff!” Kate embraced her younger brother as if she hadn't just seen me that morning. She's nearly as tall as my six-one, with hair the same shade of red as mine but usually piled on top of her head. Tonight it was half up, half down, for a very feminine and attractive effect. Hugs were exchanged among the Codys and McCabes, one big happy family, and then I realized that Lynda probably didn't know O'Neill. I introduced her under the newly minted Lynda Teal Cody name, which she uses about half the time.

“I've heard a lot about you,” O'Neill told Lynda in his deep voice as he shook her hand. Lynda responded with a conventional “uh-oh.” She'd heard about him, too - from me - although she didn't say so. O'Neill was something of a
wunderkind
. Only thirty-two years old, he'd been hired away from the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning a year ago. Although only department head on an interim basis, he was said to be a strong candidate for the job. One of the few people in the room I had to look up to, he stood about six-five but looked taller because of his slim build and three-button gray suit. The eyes behind his brown, horn-rimmed glasses were serious. He wore a mustache, but it was almost invisible against the black of his skin.

“I'm still a newcomer to the Erin community,” O'Neill said. “In fact, I still commute the forty miles from Cincinnati every day. But I'm really impressed by what Ms. Hawthorne is doing here. I know there are a couple of other galleries, but the vision - ”

He stopped dead, a look of annoyance on his face as if he'd been interrupted. At first I couldn't figure out why, and then I realized that a newcomer was standing next to me. It was the guy with a shaved head and goatee that I'd seen Scrappy Smith talking with earlier. He was of medium height, wearing a black turtleneck sweater, jeans, and a corduroy sport coat. In his right hand he held a glass of white wine.

“Good evening, Dr. Calder,” O'Neill said to the man stiffly.

So that was the reason for the freeze-up. This was O'Neill's competition - one of the other two contenders for the position of department head. Thurston Calder was older than O'Neill by a decade or so and had written several books and dozens of articles. I'd heard that he was on campus for interviews, but I hadn't met him. He had been available for other opportunities, as someone had described it to me, since leaving the Warhol Art Institute in Pittsburgh about two years previously.

“Hello, O'Neill.” Calder smiled, but not with his ice-blue eyes. “Enjoying yourself?” Somehow he made the question sound suggestive.

“Immensely,” the younger man responded. He began the introductions.

“Oh, yes, the mystery writer,” Calder sniffed at Mac's name. “Sorry, I don't read for entertainment.” He showed considerably more interest in Lynda. She was tastefully attired for the occasion in a simple black and white cocktail dress with spaghetti straps, which I thought made a nice contrast with my colorful Bugs Bunny tie. Her gold necklace and matching earrings set off the naturally curly, honey-blonde hair swept behind her ears. But Calder, professing himself to be charmed, wasn't looking at the hair or the jewelry. His eyes were roving a little lower, where there is plenty to see. Obviously he wasn't a leg man. I was about to say something subtle -
“How would you like a bust in the mouth, Calder?”
- when O'Neill pointed out that Kate was one of the artists whose work was on display.

“The stained glass?” he repeated. “Oh, yes. I saw that - the Art Deco birds. Echo Deco, rather, since it's new. Nice little pieces. More craft than art, of course, but very nice. Have you worked in glass long, Kate?”

“Actually, the style is closer to Art Moderne,” Mac said, oozing charm. “However, the distinction is a rather subtle one.”
Nice one, big guy!

Without a glance at her husband, my sister answered for herself. “Not very long, Dr. Calder. We're all just hobbyists here, you know.” As a professional artist, not to mention an adjunct professor, Kate was being modest.

“Well, it's nice to have a hobby, I suppose. So, Jeff, I gather you're responsible for public relations at St. Benignus?”

“That's right.”
Want to make something of it?

“Well, you certainly have your work cut out for you. I'd never heard of your little school until I was asked to apply for the position.” He sipped his white wine with an expression that suggested it was gall. “Given the state the art department is in and the meager resources available here, I'm not sure that even I can help much. Ah, well. We'll see. Excuse me. I'm supposed to mingle.”

When he'd left, I looked at O'Neill and said, “What a charmer. I hope you don't wind up having to work for him.”

“Don't worry about that.” The interim department head looked determined. “I will never work for Thurston Calder.”

“He is not only thoroughly unpleasant,” Mac said, emerging from his uncharacteristic reticence, “he is not even clever about it.”

“I wonder who invited him,” Lynda said.

Kate held up her hands, one of which included an empty wine glass. “Not me! That was Rosalie's idea.”

The effort involved in not punching Calder in his patronizing mouth had made me thirsty. I turned to Lynda. “Glass of wine?” She prefers bourbon, but that wasn't on the bar menu.

“Sure.”

“I shall accompany you,” Mac said, taking Kate's glass with his left hand and holding up his empty beer bottle in the right.

With Mac's substantial bulk clearing the way, it was easier to get to the bar than if I'd been on my own, but it still took a while. And there was a long line once we got close.

“We should be happy it is so crowded in here, old boy,” Mac said as we waited.

I knew what he was thinking: The obvious success of the opening show was good news for the gallery, for the artists, and for the city of Erin. “Maybe so, but it could have been just as successful with two bartenders.”

Justin Bird, a troubled young man who seemed to be straightening out his life, smiled in recognition when we finally made it to the head of the line. Lynda's best friend, Sister Mary Margaret Malone, had made Justin's redemption something of a project.
[*]
Mac engaged him in cheerful banalities while he, Justin, served up a glass of water for me, a bottle of Moerlein OTR Ale for Mac, and a glass of red wine from Erin's Silk Stocking Winery for each of our spouses with admirable efficiency. Maybe Justin had found his niche.

On the way back we passed within three or four feet of Thurston Calder. He was standing in front of one of the exhibits, an oil painting of flowers, lecturing a tall woman with cottony white hair. He stuck his head close to the painting. “Those brush strokes remind me of...”

“I wonder if Calder realizes to whom he is speaking?” Mac mused when we were out of earshot.

He must have seen a blank expression on my face, because he expounded:

“That is Lillian Peacock, Beryl's grandmother, and that is her painting.” We knew Beryl Peacock from Beans & Books, a local coffeehouse where she was a server. I had noticed her among the throng earlier in the evening.

“Does it matter?” I said. “I'm sure Calder thinks he knows more about the painting than the artist herself.” Okay, I was being judgmental - Lynda says I'm good at that - but not without good reason in this case. Besides, I didn't like the way Calder had looked at Lynda.

When we got back to Kate and Lynda they were alone in the crowd, happily talking to each other. They'd been good friends while I dated Lynda, and then while I wasn't dating Lynda for a while, and their friendship had even survived the wedding planning. Now they were more like sisters. Mac and I joined what turned out to be a conversation about the state of journalism today as viewed from Lynda's perch as editorial director for Grier Ohio NewsGroup, the chain that owns
The Erin Observer & News-Ledger
. That was such a depressing subject that I was relieved to hear a new voice say:

“Where's the blood?”

Later, in view of what happened, I would remember the question with a chill. But at the time I recognized it for the witticism that Lesley Saylor-Mackie intended. Elsewhere I have described our mayor as elegant, but classy and dignified would do just as well. A noted historian and head of the history department at St. Benignus, she is a solidly built woman in her late fifties. If her sandy, gray-streaked hair has ever had a strand out of place, that's news to me. On campus or at City Hall she dresses for business, but tonight she was strikingly attired in a red dress with a black border. The design was vaguely Egyptian, as was her necklace.

“You mean the blood in the title of the show,” Kate said. “We thought that might get some attention. It was suggested by a quote from Sherlock Holmes. ‘Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.'”

“Of course,” Mayor Saylor-Mackie said, “from the opening scene of ‘The Greek Interpreter.'”

I fought back a sinking feeling.
Et tu, Saylor-Mackie?
Was I the only non-Sherlockian left in the whole bloody world? Even my own wife ... but that's another story, and a grim one.
[**]
Sebastian McCabe, BSI, belongs to half a dozen Sherlock Holmes societies and writes highly popular (except to Thurston Calder) mysteries of the amateur sleuth variety. I, on the other hand, prefer my streets mean and my detectives armed with guns instead of wordplay. Those are the kind of stories I write. So far every publisher I have been able to track down in the English-speaking world has deemed them totally resistible. They remain unpublished.

BOOK: Rogues Gallery
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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