Faking it, p.19
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       Faking It, p.19
 

          

  “I’m feeling fairly grateful myself,” he said, his voice as calm as ever.

  I didn’t even make a dent in his concentration, she thought. It had felt good, okay great, but not great enough to get rid of this damn weird feeling that always hit her afterward. You don’t know me. You think you’ve had me, but you don’t know me.

  Of course, it was a damn good thing he didn’t know her. She was going to have to stop saying yes, or he’d get to know her. Maybe she needed therapy. Maybe she and Gwennie and Louise could go, and they could get a family deal.

  “You’re thinking again,” Davy said as he pulled his pants back on.

  Tilda opened her eyes and forced a smile. “Just that you’re off the hook for the rest of the paintings now.”

  “Oh, we’ll get the rest of the paintings.” Davy stood up, dressed again. “But it’ll have to be quick. I’m on my way to Australia.”

  “Right,” Tilda said, not surprised that the other paintings were still a sure thing. Davy kept all his promises and got everything he went after. Which was why from now on, she had to be something he wasn’t going after. He was just too damn dangerous.

  Behind her, the Paris Sisters sang “I Love How You Love Me,” evidently not the kind of women who ever had weird thoughts after sex, and Tilda felt depressed and wondered why. Maybe it was just exhaustion. Long day. Strong orgasm.

  “You’ve got that look again,” Davy said.

  “Really tired.” Tilda stood up and zipped her jeans. “Well, good night.”

  “Celeste, we’re sharing the same bed,” Davy said as she unlocked the door.

  “Right,” she said. “See you there, Ralph.” Then she took the steps two at a time while he stood at the bottom, shaking his head.

  TILDA GOT up the next morning careful not to wake Davy. She couldn’t find Nadine, so she turned Steve over to Gwen for baby-sitting while she went to work. Gwen didn’t seem to mind. “Variety,” she said, looking down at the little dog. “I live for it.”

  “Are you okay?” Tilda said, taken aback.

  “Fine,” Gwen said.

  “Mason was sweet last night at poker,” Tilda said, prodding a little. “How was lunch?”

  “Nice,” Gwen said.

  “Gwennie?”

  “We talked about the gallery. He appears to yearn for it.” She flipped open her Double-Crostic book.

  “Maybe we should talk about the gallery.” Tilda picked up a little yellow paper umbrella Gwen had stuck in her pencil holder. “Drinking on the job?”

  “Don’t you have to paint today?”

  “Just the base coat,” Tilda said, looking at the crostic book. Gwen had been doodling little umbrellas in the book margins. “And then Davy and I are going after a painting. What is it with you and umbrellas?”

  “So how is Davy?” Gwen said. “Happy?”

  “Asleep.” Tilda put the umbrella back and escaped out through the office.

  But when she opened the door to the van, Nadine was sitting in the passenger seat.

  “Hello?” Tilda said.

  “I want to come along,” Nadine said, and she still looked a little rocky from the Poor Baby, so Tilda said, “Sure,” and climbed in.

  “Here’s the thing,” Nadine said when they were heading north. “With Burton gone, so is the singing gig.”

  “There are probably other bands,” Tilda said. “You have a great voice, Dine.”

  “I didn’t like singing with the band,” Nadine said. “I know that’s where the money probably is, but it was noisy and a lot of the songs were stupid and nobody really listened anyway. It wasn’t really music.”

  “Okay,” Tilda said. “Do you want me to talk to your dad about the Double Take?”

  “It wouldn’t do any good,” Nadine said. “I’m underage. I can’t sing there for another two years even if he wanted to let me, which he doesn’t. But that’s okay. I’m thinking I might want to be a painter.”

  “Oh,” Tilda said, light dawning. “Well, today is not going to be very interesting. I’m painting the base coat and looking at color samples under the light there. Tomorrow I’m doing the underpainting. You can help with that if you want.”

  “That’d be good,” Nadine said. “Because you make pretty good money doing this, right? I mean, you were in that home magazine and everything.”

  “That helped,” Tilda said, thinking of Clarissa Donnelly and her sunflowers, the magazine left strategically nearby. “But it’s not exciting work, Dine. It’s a lot like you and the band. It’s painting, but it’s not art. I’m copying other people’s art to make wallpaper.”

  “But it makes money,” Nadine said.

  “You do not have to support this family,” Tilda said.

  “Right,” Nadine said. “You think I could learn to do this?”

  “I think you can do anything,” Tilda said.

  “Cool,” Nadine said, and sighed. “So what’s this about Mr. Brown?”

  “What?” Tilda said.

  “Mr. Brown. When he moved in, you told Grandma you thought his name was fake. Should we worry?”

  “No,” Tilda said. “If that becomes a problem, I can take care of that, too.”

  “You know, I can help,” Nadine said, sounding exasperated.

  “Why don’t you be a kid instead?” Tilda said. “Enjoy it while you’ve got it.”

  “You obviously don’t remember what being a kid is like,” Nadine said and slumped down in her seat.

  Being an adult has its drawbacks, too, Tilda thought, and took the exit for her next mural.

  BACK IN Tilda’s bedroom, Davy woke up feeling less than triumphant, especially when he rolled over and she was gone. He squinted at the clock. It was after ten, she’d had to start a mural today, it didn’t mean anything that she wasn’t there, but still...

  Yeah, like you’ve ever wanted to wake up with a woman you’ve slept with, he told himself. Especially one who seemed less than pleased with the night before, which was really confusing because she’d definitely made it that time. Complicated woman, Celeste.

  Maybe getting the fifth painting that afternoon would work the kinks out of her. That was the problem with women, they were high maintenance, needed attention all the time, flowers, phone calls—

  “Oh, hell,” he said, remembering his sister Sophie. She’d probably tried to call him. He crawled out of bed and found his cell phone in his jacket pocket and clicked it on to check his messages. It rang almost immediately and he looked at the number. Nobody he knew. “Hello?” he said.

  “I’ve been calling you for days,” Ronald said. “You should leave that cell phone on.”

  “So I can talk to you?” Davy said, sitting back down on the bed. “No.”

  “I’m trying to help you,” Ronald said. “I wanted you to know that Clea knows you’re in town.”

  “Yeah, I know,” Davy said.

  “Well, I didn’t tell her,” Ronald said.

  “Blow me, Rabbit.”

  Ronald exhaled loudly into the phone, apparently in disgust. “I’m trying to help you. She’s really angry. You’re in danger.”

  “Am I?” Davy said.

  “She’s hired a hit man, Davy,” Ronald said.

  “Good to know,” Davy said, checking his watch.

  “I didn’t tell you this before,” Ronald went on, “but one of the reasons she had to have your money is that her husband didn’t leave her anything. She needs that money, Davy. You should get out of town.”

  “She’s lying to you, Rabbit,” Davy said tiredly.

  “No,” Ronald said. “It’s true. He had a great art collection and the warehouse it was in burned down, and the insurance company is refusing to pay. He was wiped out. She really needs your money. Let her have it and go.”

  “A torched warehouse? Christ, that’s the oldest fraud in the book. I can’t believe she—” Davy said, and then stopped. “Wait a minute. How do you know he had a great collection?”

  “I told you, I helped Clea
value it after he died. That’s how we met. She turned to me in her grief and—”

  “The warehouse burned before he died, Rabbit. You just said so.”

  “Oh,” Ronald said. “Well, yes, I helped value it before he died. But nothing happened between us until—”

  “My ass,” Davy said. “You helped Clea burn an empty warehouse to collect the insurance. Where are the paintings now?”

  “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ronald said. “I’m trying to save your life. I’m not kidding.”

  “I know,” Davy said. “You have no sense of humor. Tell Clea I said hi and not to burn any more storage facilities. Does she still do that thing with the feather and the ice cube?”

  “What?”

  “Oh, Rabbit, don’t tell me you gave her three million dollars and she never pulled out the feather and the ice cube.”

  “I don’t know why I called you,” Ronald said. “You don’t deserve to be saved.”

  “You called me because if somebody tries to kill me, you want to be sure you don’t go down for it,” Davy said. “You’re covering your ass, as usual. And I don’t deserve most of the stuff that happens to me, including having all my money stolen by a Judas of a friend.”

  “It wasn’t your money,” Ronald said automatically.

  “Good-bye, Rabbit,” Davy said. “Call me if Clea hires anybody else. I live for these updates.”

  “She hired some help around the house,” Ronald said, trying to be snotty. “I’ll call you if she gets a dog.”

  “Around the house,” Davy said, straightening. “Does this help live in?”

  “I think so,” Ronald said. “Why?”

  Oh, fuck, Davy thought. They should have gone after the last painting sooner. Now he had a third person to get out of the house, and it wasn’t likely Mason and Clea were going to let Gwen invite the kitchen help to the gallery for the night.

  “Davy?”

  “What does the help look like?” Davy said.

  “Thin. Dark hair. Rather foolish looking. Not anybody Clea would sleep with,” Ronald said, sticking to the essentials and ignoring the fact that if he’d said “blond” instead of “dark hair,” he’d have been describing himself.

  “I think I know him,” Davy said. I think I dragged him into an empty room after Tilda kicked his head in.

  “He didn’t look very competent,” Ronald said. “But then, it’s hard to get good help.”

  “Yeah, I know,” Davy said. “They embezzle from you.” He hung up and tried to work out a plan to get the help out of the house. Maybe he could find out the guy’s night off. There was always a way. Life could be a lot worse. He could be Rabbit.

  “No, I couldn’t,” he said and went to shower.

  DAVY WAS waiting when Tilda came back for lunch, and they took off for Clintonville and the fifth painting with Tilda as a redhead again. The Brenner house was a foursquare, maintained but not rehabbed, with a front porch crowded with pots of greenery that Davy recognized under the generic heading of “grandmother’s houseplants.” The woman who opened the door would have fallen under the heading of “nice old lady” had Davy been a nice young man. Instead, he looked at her and thought, Mark.

  “Hi,” he said, smiling his best nice-young-man smile, and sure enough, Mrs. Brenner smiled back. Such a nice young man. “My name is Steve Brewster, and I’m collecting for Art for Masses. We ask for donations of old paintings and framed artwork which we sell to benefit the homeless.” She nodded, smiling back at him. “There was an article in the Dispatch not too long ago,” Davy lied. “Maybe you saw it?”

  “Why, yes,” the woman said, adjusting her glasses.

  God protect this woman, Davy thought, but he said, “We were wondering if you might have an old painting or two hanging around.” He grinned. “So to speak.”

  “Oh, dear,” she said. “I did have an attic full of them, but my husband’s nephew Colby cleaned it out for me. I think he hauled all of them to the dump.”

  Hell. “That was thoughtful of him,” Davy said.

  “Not really,” the woman said, losing her smile. “He charged me quite a bit for it. And then there was the fee at the dump. After all that, I almost wished I’d left them up there.”

  Fee at the dump, Davy thought, and immediately downgraded the nephew from good human being to classic cheating mark, the guy who deserved to go down. “I don’t suppose he told you which dump?” Davy said. “We do a lot of salvage.”

  “No,” the woman said, shaking her head, “but it was an expensive one.”

  “Could I have your nephew’s phone number?” Davy said, trying to keep his voice from growing grim. “That dump sounds like a good place for us. For charity.”

  “Of course,” the woman said and disappeared back into the house, leaving her door open.

  Oh, honey, Davy thought. Get a Doberman.

  “Here it is,” she said, coming back to the door with a slip of paper and a five-dollar bill in her hand. “He’s up in Dublin.”

  The creep lived in upper-crust Dublin but he was still ripping off his aunt? Take this guy for everything he’s got, Davy’s lesser self whispered.

  “I’ll give him a call,” Davy said, turning his inner con man back to the job at hand. “And I’ll make sure to send you a receipt so you can claim the donation on your income tax.” He tried to take the paper without the bill, but she shoved both at him.

  “Oh, no, I’m just sorry I couldn’t help more,” the woman said. “Please take this, too. I’m sorry it can’t be more—”

  Jesus, Davy thought. “Absolutely not,” he said, sliding the slip of paper out from under the bill in her hand. “Our charter only allows us to accept artwork. You’re much too generous.”

  “Well, I still have my home,” she said. “And they don’t, poor things. Are you sure you won’t take this? Why don’t you use it for your lunch? You should be rewarded, too.”

  Davy gazed at her sadly. The urge to say, “Look, never give to anybody door to door, never leave your door unlocked especially when there’s a strange guy asking for money on your porch, and never, ever, ever let your nephew in the house again,” was overwhelming. “I really can’t,” he said. “But the gesture is appreciated. You have a really nice day.”

  “Thank you,” she said, holding the five to her chest with a gesture that told Davy all he needed to know about how much she would have missed it. “You have a good day, too.”

  The screen door banged closed behind him as he went down the cracked concrete steps, and he gave serious thought to calling Colby in Dublin and offering to sell him some nice land in Florida. Instead he got back in the car and called the number on his cell phone.

  “What are you doing?” Tilda said. “I don’t get to play on this one?”

  Davy waved her off as a bored-sounding woman answered the phone. “He’s not here,” she said when Davy asked. “He won’t be back until late.”

  “I’ll call back later,” Davy said. “I’m interested in some paintings he took to a dump. You don’t happen to know which dump, do you?”

  “He didn’t take any paintings to a dump,” the woman said, sounding outraged at the thought. “He sells stuff like that at the flea market on South High.”

  “Is that where he is now?” Davy said, keeping the grimness from his voice.

  “He’s at work,” the woman said. “The flea market opens Thursdays.”

  “Right,” Davy said, but she’d already hung up.

  “What’s wrong with you?” Tilda said.

  “These guys are scum,” he said. “The guys who rip off people who can’t afford it. The bullies and the grifters and the snakes. I hate them.”

  When she didn’t say anything he looked over at her. She looked pale, her eyes huge behind her glasses.

  “Hey,” he said. “It’s okay. I’ll take care of him. But we are not giving him money.”

  “Okay,” she said faintly.

  “Take it easy, Betty,” he said, patting he
r knee. “You just aren’t cut out for crime.”

  “Oh, no,” Tilda said. “I’m really, really not.”

  What a shame, he thought, and put the car in gear.

  TILDA WENT upstairs to bed that night at eleven, with both Steve and Davy behind her, determined to say no if Davy made his move. And he was going to, he had that cheerful look in his eye. Steve was looking fairly cheerful, too, for a change, but on the third-floor landing, as they passed Dorcas’s room, the door opened, and Dorcas peered out.

  “Could you guys keep it down a little?” she said.

  “What?” Tilda said, startled. “We didn’t say anything.”

  “Not now,” Dorcas said. “Friday and Saturday night.” She shook her head at them. “All that moaning and screaming. I couldn’t paint.”

  “That wasn’t us,” Davy said regretfully. “That was Simon and Louise.”

  “Simon?” Dorcas said, as Ariadne walked out on the landing.

  “A friend of Davy’s,” Tilda said. “And it was only the weekend. Louise isn’t—”

  Ariadne swatted Steve, claws bared, three times fast.

  Tilda scooped up the startled dog and held him out of harm’s way as Dorcas said, “Ariadne!”

  “What the hell was that for?” Davy said.

  “Past crimes.” Tilda propped Steve on her shoulder and he looked down at Ariadne, eyes wide. “It’s okay, Steve. She’ll get over it. I’ll tell Louise, Dorcas.” She started up the stairs again, and Davy followed her.

  “What did he do to Ariadne?”

  “He made a pass,” Tilda said, trying to keep the discussion PG.

  “Oh.” Davy looked back down at Ariadne on the landing. “Doesn’t he get points for being open-minded?”

  Tilda gave up on the PG. “He tried to hump her.”

  “Steve, you dummy,” Davy said. “You gotta buy her a couple of drinks first, get her liquored up.”

  Tilda had a momentary vision of Steve leaning up against the landing wall, asking Ariadne if she came there often, and laughed.

  “Then when you’ve got her laughing,” Davy said to Steve, “make your move.”

  “I too have claws,” Tilda said.

 
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