The Billionaires and Their Playgrounds # 1
Copyright © 2013
Jessica neatly folded bubble wrap around the final canvas before sighing loudly. To say that things hadn’t gone as she’d hoped was an understatement. The seven-day exhibition of her paintings in Mayfair, Central London, was finally over, and had proved an unprecedented disaster.
In order to promote her work, and make a name for herself in the art world, she’d used her life savings of almost ten thousand pounds to rent the swish, modern premises. She’d traveled all the way from her home in Cornwall, in a borrowed van held together by rust, with what she considered to be her fifty finest paintings.
As she gathered the unsold artwork together, a nagging headache threatened and she couldn’t stop herself from bursting into tears. She’d been a fool to believe she could make a living as an artist. Everyone had told her that. Her family, her friends, everyone. Why the hell hadn’t she listened? She was a twenty-nine-year-old woman. Had she learned nothing in her time on this earth? If she had, perhaps she wouldn’t have thrown away ten grand on a whim she could ill afford. The reality of packing every canvas, except one, back into the battered van her mechanic brother had loaned her was testament to that. To add insult to injury, the single painting she had sold was to her best friend Jackie, and as they’d known each other since junior school, she’d given her a discount.
She took a deep breath, trying to compose herself. “Okay, let’s do the math.” Using mental arithmetic, she reluctantly calculated the damage. Seven days hire of the gallery, six thousand pounds. Printing and manufacture of one thousand full color catalogs documenting her work another two thousand pounds. The cost of drinks and canapés for guests, of which there were more than eight hundred, a further twelve hundred pounds. Cost of petrol from Cornwall, two hundred pounds. Jesus. Surely there couldn’t be anything else?
Relaxing with the total acceptance of failure, she forced a smile. “Well, at least I got two hundred pounds for the canvas I did sell.”
Her mobile was set to vibrate, and with obvious irritation she clawed it from her jean pocket, and held it to her ear. “Hello, Jessica Morris speaking.”
There was complete silence for a moment or two, and she briefly wondered if she’d attracted the unwanted attention of an amorous, heavy breather.
Christ, that’s all I need right now.
“Hello. Who’s calling?” She knew her tone didn’t sound exactly friendly, but the way her week had gone, she didn’t care.
“Good evening, ma’am. My name is Mason Garner, and I’m calling on behalf of a Mr. Deville.”
She’d watched enough American TV shows to recognize the accent. This particular variation came across as articulate and educated, and she placed it firmly on the East Coast.
“How can I help you, Mr. Garner?”
“Well, ma’am, I understand you’ve just completed an exhibition of your work at the Artspace Gallery, located in London, England.”
“You are correct, Mr. Garner.”
“May I ask how the exhibition went?”
Just who was this mysterious cultivated individual? She had absolutely no idea, but she’d play along for now. “The exhibition went very well. Thank you for asking.”
“Excuse me for saying so, ma’am, but that’s not the information I have.”
She held the mobile away from her ear, and stared at it in disbelief. Damned cheek. Who the hell did this man think he was? She felt herself bristle with indignation.
“Well your information is incorrect.”
With those final acerbic words, she made to kill the connection, but before she could, she heard the mysterious stranger add, “Mr. Deville has authorized me to purchase your remaining canvases. All forty-nine of them, ma’am.”
Now this guy was seriously pissing her off, and intriguing her at the same time. “And just who is Mr. Deville?”
“Mr. Deville has instructed me to pay the full ticket price for each painting. So according to my calculations we have seven smaller canvases priced at three hundred English pounds each. Twenty-five medium-sized canvases priced at five hundred pounds. In addition, there are seventeen of the largest canvases priced at one thousand pounds. That makes a total of thirty-one thousand six hundred pounds payable to you. May I take this opportunity to congratulate you on making an excellent return on your ten-thousand-pound investment.”
Jessica knew her mouth fell open. Fuck. This guy was a cool operator, but he had to be a hoaxer or a con man, and she didn’t care for either option. In fact, she felt downright angry. “Now you listen to me, Mr. Garner. The police are tracing this call as we speak, and you’re going to find yourself in a whole load of trouble when they finally catch up with you.”
Calm and composed as ever, he responded, “I don’t believe for one second that the British Police are tracing this call, Ms. Morris. The address I have for you is, Ms. Jessica Morris, Cliff Cottage, Smuggler’s Cove, Cornwall, England, and the postcode is—”
“Enough.” This was getting spooky. “Mr. Garner, I don’t know who you really are, and I really don’t want to know.”
His controlling voice seemed to smooth over her, allaying any fears and concerns. “Please bear with me, ma’am. May I assure you this is a genuine offer. A banker’s draft will arrive at your address within the next seven days. Once cashed, you’ll see that everything is legitimate and aboveboard.”
Annoyed at her own naivete, the penny finally dropped. The more she listened to that accent, the more it sounded familiar. It had to be her brother’s best friend, Matt, playing one of his infamous practical jokes, which to say the least wasn’t hugely appreciated at this time. “I know it’s you, Matt, you bastard. Your American accent is good, but not good enough to fool me.”
There was no response for a good five seconds, then the voice continued. “There’s one final thing, ma’am. Mr. Deville is purchasing your collection on the understanding that you send them to his New York address. I should also add that Mr. Deville has seen your work at close quarters, and is extremely impressed with your use of color and light. So much so, that he wishes to commission you to paint a number of canvases in both oil and watercolors, depicting the beauty and splendor of his private island in the Caribbean. Mr. Deville will pay a further twenty-five thousand pounds for each canvas he finds acceptable.”
She laughed. “Yeah, yeah, of course he will. I know it’s you, Matt, and tell that no-good brother of mine he’s in deep trouble for putting you up to this.”
“Full instructions will arrive along with a banker’s draft. I think that’s all for now, ma’am. So I wish you a pleasant drive back to Cornwall. In my opinion one of the most picturesque of English counties.” Then the line clicked dead.
She really should be angry with her brother and his best friend for taking the piss like this, especially when she’d had such a crap week, both financially and emotionally, but she couldn’t help seeing the funny side of it all. Matt’s impression of a wealthy Yank was pretty damned good. But not that good.
As if something so spectacular would happen in real life, it would be like winning the lottery. She wistfully shook her head. No, nothing so exciting would ever happen to her. Instead, she’d pack her remaining canvases into her brother’s rusty old van and head home to the safety of Smuggler’s Cove.
* * * *
When Kaine Deville pushed open the door to the games room, his best friend, Mason Garner was busy tucking his cell phone into the inside pocket of his jacket. His face wore an enigmatic smile.
“I take it from your expression that the deed is done?”
“Then what’s so amusing?”
Mason laughed out loud. “Those goddamn English. You gotta laugh, Kaine. The lady in question thought I was her brother’s friend, playing a practical joke.”
Kaine stroked his fingers across the stubble on his chin. “Will that be a problem?”
“Not as soon as the check for thirty-one thousand six hundred pounds turns up at her address, with your signature on it, along with a set of instructions. I take it you’ve checked the lady out.”
“Don’t I always, buddy? She’ll be thirty years old come the twenty-second of May, and she currently works as a primary school teacher in the small Cornish village of Smuggler’s Cove, which has a population of exactly three hundred and twenty-six. Her mother and father run an unremarkable grocery store in the local area, and her only brother works as a mechanic. My sources tell me not a very good one. Apparently this guy has zero business sense.”
Mason laughed again. “These eccentric Brits with their cottage industries.”
Deep in thought Kaine sat on the edge of the billiard table. He took hold of the eight ball, sending it spinning across the green baize into the corner pocket.
Four days ago he’d flown to London on business. He’d bid on a couple of pieces of impressionist art at the world-renowned Sotheby’s auction house in New Bond Street. Although the artists were relatively unknown, his gut instinct told him these creative young men, barely into their twenties, had a bright future ahead of them. He figured their work would make a great investment. On that basis, he hadn’t flinched when the bidding had reached fifty thousand pounds for each piece. However, he wasn’t just in it for profit. He had to see and feel the sheer beauty and power positively dripping from the artwork, too. Art was a passion of his. Unlike real life, it never grew old then withered and died. Its beauty was of the moment, ephemeral, but it also lasted forever.
After a celebratory Jack Daniel’s at the bar, he’d decided to take in the town for a couple of hours before his flight back to the States later that evening. He’d strolled down New Bond Street, before coming across an intriguing art exhibition situated in Maddox Street, Mayfair. He considered himself well informed on anything new in the art world, but this little gem had completely passed him by. With time to kill he’d decided to take a look around.
Mason gently tapped a billiard cue against the edge of the table, rousing him from his introspection. “Care for a game?”
“No.” Kaine shook his head. “Not right now. What I saw at that exhibition blew me away. In all my years of collecting beautiful things I’ve never seen such raw talent. Her use of color, light, and texture is fucking amazing.”
“You seem impressed. As your friend and adviser, it’s my duty to tell you that no one else was. Out of fifty paintings, forty-nine of them remained unsold. Clearly the other people at the exhibition weren’t as impressed as you were.”
Kaine gestured dismissively. “They’re wrong. They’re all wrong. Those deadheads at the exhibition wouldn’t know talent if it sat up and bit their sorry asses. This lady is the real deal, and I’m gonna take full advantage of being there at the beginning. With my guidance, five years from now she’ll be world famous, and her work will be worth millions. Why do you think I decided to buy all her paintings, and invite her to the island?”
“Are you sure it’s the artwork that’s impressed you so much, and not the artist herself?”
Kaine wagged a finger at his friend. “Ah, now you’re talking. Let’s just say Jessica’s beauty was an added bonus. The cherry on top of the cake.”