Fortune for Fools – Excerpt
I’m delighted today to share an excerpt from Cindy Christiansen’s “Merchant Street Mystery” story, Fortune for Fools.
Fortune for Fools
Zeke Abberley stared at the damaged 1859 painting with a scowl on his face. Why me? He had bid on the Illinois estate sale as a whole specifically because of this piece and now it had arrived damaged, with a crunched frame and punctured canvas. He had been assured the painting was in perfect condition. He bit his lip, continuing to stare at the entrancing image of the unrecognizable couple from the Middle Ages embraced in a kiss with shadowy forms lurking in the background. Although one of Francesco Hayez’s best known works, this was not the most famous rendition of the pose or lighting—but still the mastery of Hayez. From Zeke’s research, it seemed this particular rendition had never been seen on the market.
That is, if it is an original Hayez. Zeke tapped his index finger on his lips. It still needed to be authenticated by an expert. The family selling the contents of their attic had no desire or time to search for appraisals and had posted the estate sale as a whole. Imagine finding a Hayez.
Although it appeared there were other prized antiques in the collection, Zeke hadn’t understood why he had wanted to purchase an out-of-state collection, especially with their antique shop overflowing as it is and sales down due to the economy. Something had possessed him, though, and this painting had something to do with it.
Aunt Adele walked into the room and set a box of pastries on the conference room table. “You’re looking down in the mouth. What’s happened?”
“Can you believe it? Can you just believe it?” he said, shaking his fist at the painting.
Life was definitely not going smoothly for Zeke. He and his younger brother, Zach, had that confrontation with Pop which had ended up with Pop walking out on them and the business. Then Zach and Holly had married and left on a very long honeymoon. And he couldn’t forget Aunt Adele suddenly marrying Kipp Waterbury at their annual street BearBQ where they barbequed a bear. Aunt Adele hadn’t been around to help with the business, either. His disastrous relationship with Lavinia Vega, the break-ins on the street, and now the damaged painting did not bode well for Zeke either. He sighed. Yeah, most of them were happy events for those involved, but he had taken the blunt of everyone’s absence and had been working double duty for weeks on end. Sure everyone was back and the long winter blues were over, but all the lovebirds kept wandering off.
Trying to manage Abberley Antiques, Zach’s thrift shop, and Kipp’s clock shop had run him ragged. No wonder he was a basket case and his and Lavinia’s relationship had ended. It would have never worked out anyway, not with the way her father felt about his family and not with how reclusive Lavinia kept herself. After all their secret dates, she still hadn’t opened up to him. She was a closed book, albeit a beautiful, gorgeous closed book.
The memory of her attractive, vanilla blonde bob, soft, full lips, delicate curves, and hint of lilac perfume sent his senses tottering and his libido hopping. However, no one, and he meant no one, would ever penetrate that armored fortress guarding her frozen heart. Futile. Utterly futile.
“Did you hear me?” Aunt Adele asked.
“Oh, sorry. What did you say?” He laid the painting down on the table and pinched his chin.
“Do you think the shipping company damaged it?”
“Most likely. I viewed the painting on Skype and didn’t see the damage. Of course, it could have been masked. Just my luck.”
“It’s The Kiss by Francesco Hayez, isn’t it?” Aunt Adele said, moving to the small fridge for a quart of milk to go with the pastries.
“Yes, well, no. This is one of the five renditions Hayez did with different lighting, but not the most known. I don’t think this one has surfaced before. That is, if it really is a Hayez.”
“So I guess you know what you have to do.”
“What’s that?” He wrapped the painting back in brown paper and bubble wrap.
“Take it to Lavinia.”
He fumbled the painting as he tried to slide it into the box. It landed on the floor, and he accidentally kicked the painting across the carpet as he reached to pick it up. “Are you joking?”
“I can’t even mention her name without you turning into a spaz.” She smiled and shook her head. “Holly’s right. You have that—what did she call it?—pistanthrophobia.”