The Writers Voice
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A Question of Values
their day to travel. Every Tuesday morning Fred and
gassed up the van and headed north from Upper
Stepney in Connecticut all the
way to Rutland, Vermont. If you are in the antique business you know the
good buys are in Rutland -- a little cleaning up
here and there, a few minor
repairs and they can be sold for three times the
price in Upper Stepney, or
ten times the price on Madison Avenue in New York.
"Fred loves to do things with his hands," Louise
would say when she told her
friends about their business. Louise, on the other
hand, had a sharp eye for
art and things of value. When Fred took early
retirement from B.V.D. & B.,
and Louise started a small antique business in
Upper Stepney. They did it
of their home for a while but the business grew and
they finally had to rent
store in town. They called it "Snapp Impressions."
The name was Louise's
not Fred's. After 30 years in the advertising
business Fred lost his touch
Every Tuesday they closed the store and drove to
Vermont. They'd stay until
Thursday morning, then drive back to Upper Stepney
with a load of butter
churns, lobster traps and syrup buckets, then
they'd open "Impressions"
about one in
On the Tuesday in question Louise began to talk ten
minutes out of Upper
Stepney. "We should sell paintings Fred, Gladys
Brewster-Phipps came in
for paintings last Sunday .... early American,
Hudson River School. We don't
have anything like that."
"We're doing okay without that stuff," Fred
grumbled. "We don't have a
gallery. We don't have the space for it. You need
walls and lighting, and
you can't buy bargain paintings." Actually, Fred
had lost his love of
too. After a long and tiresome career in
advertising, he no longer respected
words or pictures, he knew they couldn't be
trusted. Old broken things ....
that's what he loved .... putting them back
together, giving them value
They took Route 103 into Rutland and stopped in
Cuttingville for coffee.
"Think about it, Fred," she went on. "We could put
up hinged panels, you
swinging out from the wall? We have the space and
it would be less work for
As they sipped their coffee, Louise glanced across
the street. She
a small white building she had seen on an earlier
trip -- "Jasper Jones,
Canvasses." She looked quickly at Fred and wondered
if she could get Fred to
there with her and check it out before continuing
on to Rutland.
"Look, Fred, over there -- let's take a look while
When they finished their coffee, Fred reluctantly
trailed after her. "Jasper
Jones," he grumbled, how could anybody make a
living with a name like that?
He cupped his eyes with his hands and looked
through the glass door. "It's
dark in there, Louise -- must be closed," but a
hand lettered sign on the
said "Open for Business." Another one said, "You
Won't Believe Your Eyes."
the rear of the gallery they could see a tall man
in a black suit standing
under a skylight. Louise opened the door and
immediately the gallery was
with soft light. Paintings were everywhere .... the
walls and floor were
covered with them. It was as though they had
blundered into the storage
a major museum. She thought there must be a king's
ransom here .... how did
priceless collection like this ever find its way
into a little town like
All six feet four of Jasper Jones pulled himself
erect and walked toward
them. A strange sort of walk -- stiff jointed, like
a short man on stilts.
"Welcome, my friends. Welcome to the gallery of
Jasper Jones. I trust you
true lovers of the art of painting. If so, my
gallery will please you. From
the Renaissance to Post-Impressionism .... the
treasures of the art world
before you." He waved his arms expansively.
"This guy must have done time in the advertising
business," thought Fred. He
whispered to Louise, "We're not going to find any
bargains here, Louise ....
let's go on to Rutland and get what we came for."
"Sir! -- I have never been in the advertising
business .... and as for
bargains, where can you find a Monet for $150?"
Had he whispered louder than he thought .... or had
this man read his
thoughts? He tried to pull Louise's arm but she was
overwhelmed by the
these precious paintings and Fred couldn't move
her. She stood like Lot's
transfixed in front of a Van Dyke .... a portrait
of a beefy, red-faced man
holding a silver tankard of ale. "It must be worth
millions," she murmured.
"It would be had I not painted it last week,
madam," Jasper smiled.
"My God!" she exclaimed .... "You painted this?"
"Exactly madam! An understandable response from
someone who knows value when
she sees it, but now we've depreciated the painting
by a hundred percent,
haven't we? Had it been an authentic Van Dyke, it
would certainly be worth
millions -- but now you know who painted it, don't
you? And now it is worth
Louise stole a quick glance at Fred and he was
aware of an unfamiliar,
calculating expression that crept across her
normally frank and honest face,
had only seen at tax time.
"The gentleman in the painting Madam -- it is
Charlie Spivak .... the
bartender at a local tavern here in Cuttingville.
It is not my custom to
masters, but to recreate -- in the master's style
-- scenes he was not
to see. Scenes he might well have painted were he
living in Cuttingville
today." He pointed to a picture on the floor
leaning against the wall. "The
Gogh at your feet .... that is the cow path leading
to Singleton's Dairy
.... might I assume you are Louise Snapp, and you,
sir .... are Frederick?"
"Now wait a minute .... " Fred began, but Jasper
went on as though he were
"Your names are well known in Rutland sir .... you
go there weekly, and what
goes on in Rutland is the talk of the town here in
Cuttingville. I am not
psychic, but I am quite able to read your name on
the van across the street.
acutely aware of the actions of others .... I am by
nature an impressionist,
you see." He picked up the Van Gogh and hung it
next to the Van Dyke. "You
practical people. You must know magic is a
practical business and the better
the magician, the better the business .... the
better the magic."
Louise took a deep breath .... "You mentioned
"Ah, yes, the Monet. It is lovely isn't it? Claude
could not have done
better; he often did far worse, mind you, but I'm
sure he could not have
better." He picked it up and moved closer to Fred
and Louise, close enough
to detect a dusty smell. "Like he'd been beating a
rug," Fred thought.
"You place great value in money, madam?"
"I .... well .... I think money is the scale we use
for value, isn't it? I
mean, you can't put a price on everything .... but,
well .... you know what
mean. Unless you put a price on something, you
don't know what it's worth."
"I did not mean to be elliptical, Mrs. Snapp, but
it occurs to me that the
price we put on things of value is based on what we
think people will pay
them. Do you agree, Mr. Snapp?"
Fred didn't like the way this was going. He could
sense the manipulation,
he didn't like Jones's effect on Louise. She seemed
to be mesmerized by the
paintings. That's what he hated about paintings,
people talked about them
much. Give him lobster pots every time.
"Money's just about everything, Mr. Jones," Fred
sighed. "When you've got
money you can have anything it buys."
"Then why bother with values .... heh, Mr. Snapp?
Yes .... why not steal
Jasper's eyes narrowed. "Things of value fade
quickly in the face of money.
Your wife is quite willing to spend $150 for this
painting that looks like a
Monet. Is that not so, Madam?" Louise nodded
eagerly. "For the sake of
let me ask you if you would still pay $150 for it
if I sign it 'Jasper
Jones?'" Louise looked helplessly at Fred, then back
to Jasper Jones.
"Somewhat less, I expect, Mrs. Snapp. Is it because
of the magic -- the
illusion that perhaps this painting is really a
valuable Monet after all? Or
perhaps someone else might be convinced that it is.
that not the American way? I am not so out of touch
with the world up here
Cuttingville that I have forgotten the value of
"Would you excuse us, Mr. Jones? I'd like to have a
word with my husband --
Louise steered Fred to the front door. "Listen to
me," she started. "You see
the possibilities, don't you? -- we don't have to
claim they're authentic.
don't have to guarantee anything -- just put a bug
in someone's ear. We'd
in somewhere between the $150 we spend and the
million we could sell it for.
Is that a profit or what?!!"
"Louise, I don't like this. It's crooked! It's why
I got out of the
advertising business in the first place. I don't
want to spend the rest of
"Ridiculous," Louise snorted. "What do you think
we're doing with butter
churns and lobster traps, why only last week Gladys
she thought was a stuffed alligator planter from
us. You and I both know it
Jasper Jones was silently pacing in front of the
Monet. He had placed a
smaller, colorful Picasso next to it. Together,
they made an irresistible
"Look at that, Fred," Louise was almost beside
herself. "If that isn't an
honest to goodness Picasso!" In a voice louder than
it had to be, she
"We'll take them both Mr. Jones .... the Monet and
the Picasso," she hastily
added, "and we'll pay in cash if that's all right
"Cash is an excellent choice, madam. Quite
acceptable, and untraceable as
well I might add."
With Fred's grudging compliance, the pictures were
bubble wrapped. He
the larger Monet and Louise, with great care,
carried the smaller Picasso.
The return trip to Connecticut was stressful to
Fred. Louise, however, could
see nothing but profit ahead. It waited temptingly,
just beyond every turn
the road. Fred was silent, but she bubbled with
"We just don't guarantee anything, see. That's the
beauty of it, right ....
and if push comes to shove we take a minimum
mark-up, but once in a while
get lucky and somebody's going to talk themselves
into a Monet or a Picasso
or whatever. Fred stared glumly ahead. "Damn it,
Fred, will you lighten up!"
"I watched Jones when he wrapped the pictures. Did
you notice the canvasses
are stapled to new stretchers .... huh, Louise? You
think Monet or whatever
used a staple gun? What about the price tags on the
stretchers .... huh
.... $4.98 Glick's Art Supplies?"
"No problem. We bought them rolled up, see. A lot
of paintings are brought
from overseas that way. We tell them they were
rolled up and smuggled into
the States by a wealthy Arabian oil millionaire.
Honestly Fred, you're
Missing Connecticut Couple
Found in Great Barrington
4/15 (AP) Frederick and Louise Snapp, of Upper
Stepney, Conn. were
killed in a one car collision on State Route 7
Wednesday afternoon. Driver
passenger were pronounced dead at the scene by
trooper Les Dickett. Their
contained a small collection of antiques and two
oil paintings of
undetermined value ...
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