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February 26, 2024

Out with the Trash 10

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Ten

From a cardboard box that Middi had graciously provided, the antique statuary expert carefully raised the feet and knees of Frank and Stein. He unwrapped the tissue paper that had cushioned the thing, and barked an expulsion of breath. "Well, I hope that none of you spent much money on this little chap, because I can tell you right away, this isn't a Schroeder."

"Told you!" Nathan roared triumphantly. "Didn't I tell your pompous ass husband that those statues were fakes? How the hell would some fat old biddy in Seattle who couldn't even drive herself to the grocery store have ended up with a law degree and a complete set of rare German statues? I told him there was something fishy about her! He could have listened to me for once instead of passing me off with that 'Well, you're getting old and your judgment isn't good any more' crap."

"What?" gasped Emily to the art dealer, ignoring her father's outburst. "How can you be so sure?"

"Hans Schroeder always used yellow or red ochre in his plaster mix in his studio. He believed that it gave his statuary some kind of magical strength -- you know, it was about Schroeder's time that archeologists were commenting on the use of red and yellow ochre in Stone Age graves and he picked up on that -- the whole Teutonic immortality myths, Norse mythology mixed with occult lore and rejection of the conventional Christian mindset. No yellow ochre, no Schroeder."

"Clive, you are such a clever son of a bitch," Middi observed, and Clive preened before her broad smile.

"Look here," he said more to Middi than to Emily. "See this under intense light? Whiter than snow. Not a fleck of yellow or red to be seen. Now the statuary that he used red ochre in the mix -- those are the priceless ones, see, because the red ochre was supposed to represent blood. But of course he never would have used red ochre on his dwarf creations -- they were simply meant for decoration, not anything to be revered."

Emily felt a wave of lightheadedness sweep through her. It's a fake. Mark spent forty thousand dollars on a fake set of lawn gnomes. Well, maybe the others are genuine. Forty thousand. He said he'd double their price in five years. Shit. "Please. Do you have a place I could sit down?"

He gestured at the chair behind his desk and pulled the other two pieces from the box with less respect. "Oh, it is a pretty good counterfeit, though. Probably made soon after Schroeder died, someone trying to capitalize on the feeding frenzy by collectors of his work." He put on a pair of magnifying glasses and looked at the break between the torso and knees. "No, wait. This isn't even an oil-based paint on the legs. See how it peels away? It's a latex paint, with a polyurethane top coat to make it glossy. Still a good counterfeit in looks alone, but with close observation, very tacky." He clucked his tongue to himself. He examined the head and the break between head and torso. "Oil-based paint on the red jacket, you can tell by the way it crumbles slightly rather than peeling."

"Do you think that oil paint has lead in it?" asked Nathan, looking tall and almost frighteningly large in the cramped rooms of the gallery.

Clive looked up at him with something like alarm in his eyes. "No, I doubt it. The use of latex paint and urethane on the legs argues for a much later date of counterfeiting. I'm sure the counterfeiters only used oil-based paint for the jacket because latex reds don't hold their color in the sunlight at all."

Forty thousand. "But we have a certificate of authenticity that accompanied the set," Emily said, her mind working on some pathetic auto-reply level. "It listed all the previous owners back to Schroeder himself. My husband looked up the names on the web, and was able to check most of them out. The document was even notarized."

"Nowadays someone with a knowledge of genealogy sites on the internet can construct a counterfeit personality in far less time than it would have taken to make a plaster casting. Complete with addresses and personal information about grandparents. If you were sold this item as a genuine Schroeder casting, then you should go immediately to the police and inform them that you were robbed." He pulled several business cards from the inner pocket of his suit coat and handed them to Emily between his index and middle fingers. "I would be delighted to testify as an expert witness." He dusted off his hands and returned the three-piece dwarf to his cardboard tomb.

"You're not going to repair it?" Middi asked.

Clive smiled at her. "I'm not going to charge you to repair statuary that could be put back together with carpenters' glue and a new coat of polyurethane. Besides, you'll want the thing in pieces so that a police investigation doesn't have to break it again to know there's reason to prosecute a case of fraud."

"Shit on a surfboard," said Middi.

Shit on a surfboard. Yes, that sums it up nicely. Why don't I ever think of things like that to say? "I can't believe this," said Emily.

"Mrs ... ahhh, I'm sorry, I know your last name isn't Storm. Didn't you insure the pieces that were bought? Surely your company would have insisted upon an independent assessment of authenticity."

"Fatzer. Emily Fatzer." She shook his hand. "Our insurance agent assured us that if we had a notarized document, the homeowner's policy would cover any damage. I thought that if you could repair it, I'd simply pay you, and submit the expense to the insurance."

"Oh, dear. I'm afraid you need a different insurance agent as well as a different art dealer. In the future, have an agency that specializes in art issue a valuation of the goods and attach a separate policy covering them. Hmm. Since the object is a fake, I'm not sure that you would even be able to sue the insurance company for misinforming you. And I'm sure that your insurance company will not pay out for fraudulent goods. I'm so sorry, Mrs. Fatzer."

"Let's take this box back to the car and go have a drink," Nathan suggested. "Clive, want to come have a drink with us?"

"No, thank you, Nathan. If I had a drink, I'd want two more and then I'd start to insult you for marrying the woman of my dreams. As it is, I can only hate you from afar, which is much safer for my face and teeth."

"What do we owe you for the consult, Clive?" said Middi, leaning on the desk so that Clive could expertly witness the v-neck sweater she wore and the subtle yet effective exposure of cleavage.

"Not a groat," said Clive. "It was my pleasure to come to your rescue with my expertise. Though do, please, come again, and leave your entourage at home."

"You can start courting her again after I'm dead, but while I'm still in the room I think you better quit while you're ahead," said Emily's father, with an ease that implied that he and Clive had fenced verbally before.

"Perhaps you should leave my gallery before you fall over and break something."

"Keep it up, Clive, and what things get broken are going to be your kneecaps," observed Middi.

At the door Emily remembered to turn and thank the art dealer. "I'll let you know what happens," she said with a wave. Thank you for making me feel better about my clumsiness; and ever so many thanks for making sure I have to tell my husband and endure his rage.

While Middi returned the box full of precious worthless trash to the car in the parking garage, Emily and her father walked about on the sidewalk, looking in store windows. After a few, "Well, look at that!" comments, and even more, "That's interesting!" to fill the silence, Nathan said, "I feel like I ought to tip him about a hundred dollars, and then pull a pistol and hold him up for everything he's got."

"Yeah," Emily responded feebly, "I appreciate his candor and his expertise, but somehow I felt like a little kid finding a piece of broken carnival glass, bringing it to a grown-up to show, and then getting a lecture that it wasn't a diamond. I guess I thought I'd feel better if I got Mark's stupid dwarf fixed up."

Nathan put a large hand on Emily's shoulder and gently shook her back and forth. "You know, Clive was right when he said you ought to take it to the police. At least get that notary fried. Listen, Angel. Breaking that little beer-mooching statue was an accident. You didn't do it on purpose. You go home, tell Mark about what happened, about Clive. Then let Mark take it to the law -- he's the bulldog in your family, he can fight his way through to getting the money back."

"Oh, I know. But he was so proud of his Schroeder collection, how unique it was -- well, no, not unique, but rare. Bursting his bubble seems so cruel."

Her father ran his hand over his thick, nearly white hair. "You always were such a softy. Just like your mother. Neither one of you ever wanted to say 'No' to anyone, in case you'd hurt their feelings. But I just want you to think about this: sometimes it's better to let someone feel pain than to make cushions around them all the time. Life isn't about cushions, it's about learning lessons and growing up and growing older, and that's not a bad thing. Trust me, that's not a bad thing."

"He's not lecturing you, is he?" cut in Middi's voice.

"I was just letting Em know that she doesn't have to wrap her husband in cotton all the time to keep his little sharp edges from breaking off. I wasn't lecturing her."

"Emily, I am lecturing you. Don't believe every word of advice anyone gives you. You have all your marbles, girl. Believe in yourself. You're allowed to tell people to take a hike. Come on, there's this incredible silk shop around the corner I want you to visit." Middi rummaged in her purse for a stick of lip balm.

"Okay. Take a hike, Dad. Take a hike, Middi. I want Italian food, and I want it now." Nathan and Middi shared a look, their eyes sparkling as they pretended to be shocked by her words. Oh, congratulations to me, I just graduated eighth grade in someone's eyes. Have I seemed so infantile, so easily led, to everyone around me? She shelved the thought for the time being as they entered the nearby restaurant called Belle Napoli, and made a mental note to think about the subjects of delayed entrance into adulthood and of over-cushioning everybody at a time when she was not emotionally buffeted and away from her comfortable, lockable bedroom.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-03-27
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Ralph Bland
06:59:53 PM
I've spent a week reading about affluent California life, wild faculty parties, and the pretensions of the well-to-do and enjoyed this strange land I know nothing of quite a bit.Nice character study of a woman in a different social class doing her best to not only find herself but also keep the person she has always been.
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