The Writers Voice
Favourite Literary Website
Two T's in Watteau
"You see how
the rectangular form stands in juxtaposition to the
arching rays coming in from the left, Mrs.
Wilmington?" There is no sign of life from Mrs.
Wilmington -- she's gone slack and her eyes are
"I'm afraid I don't get it, Jaime. Point out the
arching rays to me again."
"There, Mrs. Wilmington -- converging on the rec
"I'm sorry, Jaime -- it's too much for me.
Non-representational art is so .... so ....
cerebral, even aloof. I suppose you'll think me a
ninny, won't you dear .... but I'm looking for
something I can put next to my Fragonard -- you
know, the little Fragonard in my bedroom."
I've seen the damn Fragonard often enough, and if I
were half the man I claim to be, I would probably
tell Mrs. Wilmington what she could hang next to
it. But I'm like all the other phony art dealers
along Third Avenue.
My little gallery seems to be a magnet for women
like Mrs. Wilmington, they know nothing about art
but they know exactly what they want -- and what
they want is often a little more than something to
hang on the wall.
Mrs. Wilmington drops in every week or so, she
knows my gallery well. She is not here to buy a
picture in the first place, she's going to kidnap
me and bring me home with her while her husband is
in Dallas, Texas. I really have no choice .... it's
a business. I'll hold off a bit -- pretend to be
coy, but in the end I'll tag along .... and, when
it's over I'll come back here, pick out something
to hang next to the phony Fragonard I sold her and
charge her ten times what it's worth.
I sold her the Fragonard a year or so ago. $25,000!
Not bad for a painting that claims to be a
Fragonard, but most certainly isn't. I found it on
the wall of a French restaurant in Limoges. It is a
canvas 12 by 18 inches as I remember -- of a
troubadour in pink pantaloons playing a lute. It is
very close to the style of Fragonard, so close in
fact that it would fool anyone. The waiter sold it
to me for the equivalent of $35 -- "But, monsieur,"
he insisted, "the frame will be extra." It was
coated with kitchen grease, and that, I think,
lends it a charm and an authority it would not
otherwise have. I have a little Watteau, (it looks
for all the world like a Watteau) in my back room,
similar in size, it will be perfect with Mrs.
"I know you're busy Jaime, but .... er, perhaps you
could find the time to look at the Fragonard. I
could have brought it with me I suppose, but it
would be better if you saw it in its setting."
Wouldn't you think she'd change her routine from
time to time? "It's in my bedroom you see -- well,
our bedroom, Miles and mine actually -- it hangs on
honey colored wall paper between the cerise drapes
and the gilded dressing table."
"Yes, Mrs. Wilmington, I remember the bedroom
well." I could tell she was working herself into a
lather. Her cheeks were flushed and she was
breathing erratically. I knew it was my turn to
play my part in this crazy game of subterfuge with
her. "The thing is, Mrs. Wilmington -- I don't know
if I can get away. There's no one here in the
gallery with me ..."
"Oh, Jaime, if you only would! It won't take long I
promise. Kevin is waiting in the car, we can be
there in fifteen minutes. He can drive you back.
You won't be gone more than an hour or two I
I will always be impressed with the Wilmington's
apartment. It overlooks the UN building complex --
looks down on it in fact. The panorama of the
Queensboro Bridge, the broad expanse of the East
River and Roosevelt Island, then the almost
infinite stretch of Long Island disappearing to the
east is a sight that only money can buy. The
Wilmington's are so far up in the clouds there's no
noise from the street -- above the smog too --
closer to the sky than the ground. They are
ordinarily outnumbered by their servants. They have
a cook, a chauffeur and a maid, but other than the
chauffeur, apparently everybody's got the day off,
even Mr. Wilmington.
A masseuse comes on Wednesday to loosen up Mrs.
Wilmington and a lawyer comes on Friday to tend to
Mr. Wilmington's stock portfolio. A long way from
Williamsburg, Jaime Laurindo, a hell of a long way
How well I remember The Laurindo's apartment in
Williamsburg! I was the third oldest in a family of
12 children. There were two uncles, an aunt and a
grandmother. There was no father. I can't remember
ever wearing anything new. I can't remember ever
sleeping alone or taking a bath without a brother
or two in the tub with me. I was fully grown before
I realized that privileged people -- people with
money -- died of natural causes. Nevertheless, like
all Colombians, we are a resilient race --
certainly more resilient here in the States than we
are back home. The Laurindo's prospered in this
country because of our extended family back home.
We still have ties, indivisible ties, with our
blood relatives in the picturesque poppy fields of
the old country; although the business is a little
too risky for my taste. On my mother's side alone
we have lost Rolando and Esperanza. One to the law
and the other to a drive by shooting.
Art is a far safer con game. I am not afraid to
open my front door at night, and the only predators
I know are women like Mrs. Wilmington. Wealthy
women, I have discovered, are only interested in
art and sex. Indivisible arts, and one seems to
lead inevitably to the other. Both can be as
addictive as cocaine. At least it seems to be this
way with Mrs. Wilmington. To be able to point with
pride to an old master on her bedroom wall gives
her a visceral boost. The 'boost' is even more
potent when she has seduced the man who sold it to
"I will never get enough of this view, Mrs.
Wilmington, you're so fortunate to live up here in
"It is lovely, isn't it Jaime. There -- I've said
your name. Now please say mine -- you remember it
"There, that wasn't hard, was it? Would you like a
brandy, Jaime?" She had already taken off her coat
and now she was peeling off her gloves and taking
the pins out of her hat.
"Yes, I'd love a brandy .... Lucille." Of course I
would .... better done drunk than sober.
Down there, I reminded myself, thirty three floors
below the terrace, Kevin the chauffeur was probably
sitting in the Caddy with one eye on the door,
waiting for me to finish -- acutely aware of what
was going on upstairs, I suppose. He had been like
an automaton on the short drive from the gallery to
the Wilmington apartment -- just the back of his
rather small head sitting on his bull neck, which
in turn seemed to grow like a tree out of his
enormous shoulders. As I accepted the brandy I
wondered how often Mrs. Wilmington -- Lucille --
used Kevin when I wasn't available. A very
ungentlemanly thought, no doubt, but then I have
not been a gentleman for long. How can a Colombian
from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn be a
gentleman in the first place? Back in Colombia it
is assumed that a woman who cheats on her husband
with one man will cheat with all the men in town --
for this she is beaten black and blue. Such a
Colombian woman would not have a Fragonard on her
bedroom wall or a chauffeur waiting downstairs
either -- in fact she would not have a downstairs.
"Come into the bedroom with me, Jaime. The
Fragonard is rather close to my bed, you may have
to stand between them to see it properly .... by
all means bring your brandy." Like a hostage
threatened with a beating, I obeyed -- bracing
myself for the onslaught once she had trapped me
between the beds.
Then the phone rang. "Oh, wouldn't you know it! The
servants are out, Jaime, stay there -- don't move,
I won't be a minute."
"Hello." She looked at me and rolled her eyes.
"What is it Kevin? -- He is! -- Just now? -- Yes, I
know, he hates to be kept waiting .... Mr.
Laurindo? Oh, he can take a cab. -- Good bye,
Kevin." She slammed the phone down and tossed off
her brandy. Then she looked at me nervously.
"Damn!" she said, -- "Miles is back -- Damn!! --
he's at Kennedy, he just called Kevin on the car
phone -- that's that!"
She walked into the living room and picked up her
coat, her hat and her gloves. Her hands were
shaking. "This is very inconvenient, Jaime, you'll
have to go. I'm sorry. Perhaps some other time. I'm
afraid you'll have to find a cab back to the
gallery. Kevin's gone to get Miles."
It was satisfying to see her so shaken. Her
composure was gone, her rich bitch poise had melted
away. She was actually afraid of being caught! I
found it hard to keep from smiling as I got my
coat. "Well," I said, "I think the little Watteau
will fit in nicely, Mrs. Wilmington -- I had it
appraised last November. 100k if I remember
correctly. Will that be satisfactory? I'll let you
know when it's ready .... "
"Yes, yes," She handed me my hat. "I'll call you,
Jaime -- don't call me here."
There was a lightness in my step as I got off the
elevator. Mrs. Wilmington had gotten her
come-uppance! Caught in the act like a little girl
with her hand in the cookie jar -- in the end she
was no better than old Rosie Romero over on
Bushwick Avenue, whose husband caught her with the
butcher. They're all alike, I thought -- Don Juan
was right after all.
I inhaled deeply of the cool afternoon air as I
stepped into the street and almost straight into
the arms of Kevin! He took my left arm and bent it
behind me until the fingers of my hand were
touching the back of my neck.
"This way Mr. Laurindo." I was blinded by the
suddenness and the pain. Without losing his grip on
my arm, he stepped around in front of me and opened
the door of Mrs. Wilmington's Cadillac. "We have to
talk, Mr. Laurindo." With that he shoved me inside,
walked around to the driver's side and got in. He
turned around to face me and his face broke into a
smile, it was the first time I noticed his two
lower front teeth were stainless steel and he wore
a diamond in his left ear.
"Wouldn't be a good idea to run for it, Mr.
Laurindo .... not in the shape you're in. We got
stuff to talk about anyways. Best to get it over
with here rather than havin' me come to see you
I leaned back still holding my arm. God! The
strength of the man. He turned around again and
started the car. I had noticed his bulk before, but
now I could see the tightness of his jacket across
his shoulders and the way his ham-like hands
gripped the steering wheel.
"Okay back there, Mr. Laurindo? I'll drive you back
to your shop -- give us a chance to talk."
My voice came out weak and whimpering, "Why aren't
you going to the airport? Aren't you supposed to
pick up Mr. Wilmington?"
"He's in Dallas. Won't be back 'til the end of the
week - I thought'cha knew."
"But you told ...."
"I do what I'm s'posed to do, Mr. Laurindo. I take
my orders from the man, not the woman -- kapeesh?"
"Mrs. Wilmington will be furious."
"Now ain't that a cryin' shame." He ventured a look
back at me. "She'll thank me for it later, y'know?
Nice lady and all that, but .... " We stopped for
the light at 63rd Street and he turned to look at
me again. "She's got a lot to lose -- and from the
look of you, not much to gain. Do y'get my drift?"
"Well, we'll just see about that." My arm was
feeling a little better -- good enough for me to
feel mad all over again.
"You don't know me, do you Mr. Laurindo. Follow the
fights much do'ya? No I s'pose not. Never heard of
Kevin Sweeney, I s'pose?" He doubled up his fist
and held it up so I could see it. "See that, Mr.
Laurindo -- big around as a bowlin' ball. Just as
hard too. Fought under the name of 'Sweeney The
Sandman.' 37 victories 3 losses .... 35 ko's. Mr.
Wilmington's a great fight fan."
We pulled up to the door of the gallery. It was
dusk and the timer had turned the lights on inside.
In the picture window facing the street there was a
large non-representational work by Katzman. It's a
very impressive piece -- never fails to stop people
in the street. Kevin got out of the car, ignored me
completely and walked up to the window with his
eyes glued to the painting. He seemed to have
forgotten me completely, so I got out and reached
in my pocket for my key.
I was wrong, he wasn't finished. He turned to me
and said, "Hey Laurindo!" (the 'Mr.' was gone)
"This how you make your livin'? .... sellin' this
I ignored him and unlocked the door, then I
disabled the security system. Kevin walked over and
held the door open.
"Before we say good night, Laurindo, let me refresh
your memory, okay?"
This business was getting every bit as risky as the
family cocaine connection. "Look, Kevin, I've had
enough for one day, okay? Go back and tell Mrs.
Wilmington what a hunk you are. You and her crummy
husband are welcome to her .... and tell her for me
my Watteau is not for sale."
It was a kind of whistling in the dark outburst on
my part. It gave me a lot of satisfaction to have
the last word, even if it was given just as I
slammed and locked the door with the 'Sandman'
outside. The last words I heard him say was, "Y'know
you gotta a dirty mouth, Laurindo." He cupped his
face in his hands and peered in the window. Seeing
me standing there, he doubled up his right fist
once again and shook it slowly, threateningly, and
with a glittering, gleeful malevolence in his pig
like eyes. Then he turned slowly and walked back to
My palms were sweaty, I felt feverish and there was
a needling twitchiness in me that I couldn't put my
finger on. I walked into the framing room, lit the
lights and looked for the Watteau. I found it
leaning against the wall hidden by a half dozen
other paintings of questionable parenthood. Under
the light it looked phony, I could see details that
would give it away to a practiced eye, but on the
whole it would fool people like the Wilmingtons. I
was quite proud of the signature, it was done in
the same floral style as the rest of the painting,
W-A-T-E-A-U. .... "Wait a minute, weren't there two
t's in Watteau?" Somebody would have noticed that,
and it didn't take much imagination to predict what
Mr. Wilmington might do if somebody did. A law suit
and ten years in the pen would be the least he
might do! More likely he would unleash 'the
Sandman.' Ten years in the pen would be a piece of
cake compared to the bowling ball fists of Kevin
I had scarcely exhaled a sigh of relief when I
inhaled a gasp of terror thinking of the Fragonard
she already owned -- the $25,000 fake Fragonard. I
remembered signing it, did I use two "g"s or one --
I couldn't remember.
Critique this work
Click on the book to leave a comment about this work