Jane unlimited, p.11
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.11

           Kristin Cashore
 

  “I’m sorry we lost your fish,” Ravi says, sounding like a little boy.

  “It’s not my fish,” Ivy says, gently. “It’s your fish.”

  “But you’re the one who’s always loved it most,” he says, then reaches to put an arm around Ivy. They walk together toward the stairs and begin to climb.

  Mrs. Vanders stares at them as they go, a wary expression on her face. Then she holds a hand out to Lucy without even glancing at her. Lucy passes the sculptureless pedestal back to Mrs. Vanders. Lucy’s eyes flicker upward once, to Colin, who’s still standing beside Jane, white-faced. Lucy pulls her phone from her pocket.

  “Are you okay?” Jane asks Colin, because he doesn’t look well.

  “It’s hard to see Ravi so upset,” Colin says.

  “He sure knows how to make a scene,” Jane says, wondering if this is why Mrs. Vanders didn’t want to put ideas in Ravi’s head about the Vermeer.

  But why is she being so cagey about calling the FBI?

  “The truth is, I’m worried about Lucy too,” Colin says. “It’s a humiliation for something like this to happen right under her nose, especially on the tail of losing that Rubens.”

  “Right,” Jane says.

  “It’s as if the thief is making a public point of not taking Lucy seriously as a private investigator,” says Colin. “It’s very personal.”

  “Who do you think did it?”

  Colin breathes a laugh, then shrugs. “Someone foolish.”

  “Isn’t it scary?” says Jane. “To think there’s a thief in the house?”

  “Sure,” he says. “But don’t worry too much. We’ve got Lucy on the case.”

  “Do you know who Lucy suspects?”

  “She doesn’t share that stuff with me,” says Colin, with a sharp little resentment that makes Jane curious. She badly wants to get back to her rooms, where she can think through all these new developments in peace. But as she turns to go, Colin says, “Kiran mentioned you make umbrellas. Is that what you meant earlier when you said you were artistic?”

  Jane is startled. “It’s nothing,” she says, trying to build a dam that will hold back Colin’s interest. “Just a hobby.”

  “I appreciate that,” he says. “Still, it’s a pretty cool hobby.”

  “Thanks,” Jane says, turning to go again, but finding that he moves with her. Jane doesn’t want Colin to go with her. She stops again.

  “I’m sorry,” he says immediately. “I swear I’m not stalking you. I’m just interested in the umbrellas.”

  “I don’t really want to talk about them,” Jane says, “and I definitely don’t want to show them to you.”

  “Fair enough,” Colin says. “Forgive me—I can’t help myself, really. It’s my job to be nosy whenever I hear about some new, interesting kind of art.”

  “I’m only a beginner!” Jane says. “They’re a mess! They’re not art!”

  Colin is all outstretched, surrendering hands and a smiling, open face. “I know,” he says. “Again, I’m sorry. Forget I brought it up. Here, I’ll prove it to you by walking you to your rooms and whispering not a single word about umbrellas. Okay?”

  “I suppose,” Jane says.

  As they walk up the stairs, Jasper follows.

  “The Brancusi is an odd choice for a thief,” Colin says. “It’s not small. It’d be hard to sneak it out.”

  “What does the fish look like?” asks Jane. “Will I know it if I see it?”

  “It looks like a long, flat, ovalish, white sliver of marble,” Colin says. “Very abstract, as fish go.”

  “Is it—beautiful?”

  “It’s not really my taste,” he says, “but it’s certainly valuable.”

  “Is the fish worth anything without its pedestal?”

  “Sure, it’s worth something,” says Colin. “But Brancusi’s pedestals are critically important to his sculptures. That fish is meant to balance on that particular pedestal. They go together. Really, it would be ridiculous to display them separately.”

  “So, then, this is a pretty strange theft.”

  “Yes,” says Colin. “It’s a kind of vandalism, really. Will you just look at this crazy kitsch?” he says, tapping the head of Captain Polepants with his foot as they go by. “Uncle Buckley loves this stuff.”

  “Really?” says Jane, wanting to know more about the spoiled and famous Uncle Buckley. “I guess I’ve been imagining someone very . . . sophisticated.”

  “Oh, he’s got eclectic tastes too. Actually—oh, never mind,” says Colin, raising another yielding hand. “I forgot I’m not allowed to say anything about umbrellas.”

  He’s baiting Jane. It’s working too. Now Jane really wants to know what Colin was going to say about Uncle Buckley and umbrellas. “As long as it’s not about my umbrellas, I don’t mind.”

  “Well,” he says, grinning, “I was only going to say that Uncle Buckley collects umbrellas. He practically has one for every outfit.”

  “He does?”

  “Oh, yes. Polka dots, stripes, floral prints. He’s always wishing more people did representational things too, like, making the canopy look like the head of a frog, or a Volkswagen Beetle, or whatever.”

  “Really!”

  “He’s the sort of person who could help you someday,” Colin says, “if you ever decided you were ready to show anyone your umbrellas. But now I’ve probably crossed the line again, right?”

  “What do you mean, help me?” Jane asks, because she can’t stop herself. She makes representational umbrellas; her eggshell umbrella is representational. It’s one of her best, really, one of the few she might be willing to show someone.

  “Well,” says Colin, “he finds buyers for art. I understand that you think your umbrellas aren’t art. But if you keep working at it, maybe someday they will be, and a partnership with someone like Uncle Buckley is the sort of thing that could make an artist’s life explode. Like, in a good way.”

  Jane has stopped in her tracks once again. Aunt Magnolia? Is this why you wanted me to come here? So that someone would see my umbrellas, and make my life explode?

  Colin is lingering beside Jane awkwardly, scratching his head, swinging himself around to look at the art on the walls while Jane stands there having her interior monologue.

  “Are you okay?” he finally asks.

  “If I show you my umbrellas,” Jane says, “will you remember that I’m only a beginner?”

  “Of course I will,” Colin says, smiling broadly. “I’m not an asshole, you know.”

  Jane has a feeling that whether or not Colin is an asshole, this is exactly the result he hoped for when he promised to walk her to her rooms and not whisper a word about umbrellas.

  Nonetheless, Jane opens her door, takes a deep, jellyfish breath, and ushers him in.

  * * *

  In Jane’s morning room, Colin weaves among her umbrellas, making thoughtful noises, lifting them to the light, and testing the tension of each one. He opens them with rough, swift movements that make Jane nervous that he’ll hurt them.

  “Hey!” she says. “Gentle! They’re handmade!”

  Jasper comes and leans against Jane’s feet, watching Colin anxiously. Bending, twirling, studying each creation fiercely, Colin reminds Jane of Sherlock. “It couldn’t be more obvious,” Jane expects him to say as he lifts her ivory and black lace spiderweb specimen to the light, thrusting it upward like a saber. “The butler did it, in the library, with the spiderweb umbrella.”

  What he actually says is, “You know, until this moment, I’ve never understood my uncle’s fascination with umbrellas. Some of these are really something.”

  To Jane’s alarm, her eyes fill with tears. She immediately turns away from him and touches her sleeve to her face.

  “Why a spiderweb?” he says.

  “We had a spider
,” says Jane, sniffling, “one winter, living in our kitchen window. My aunt wouldn’t let me kill it. We named it Charlotte, of course.”

  “And this one?” he says, lifting one up that seems red, until the light hits it and it turns various shades of purple.

  Jane is rubbing her ears. “It’s made of two translucent fabrics,” she says, “red on the outside and blue inside, so it seems like it’s glowing different purples, depending on the light. I tried a yellow and blue one too, to make green, but the green gave people a sickly pallor.”

  “Uncle Buckley would appreciate that you consider those factors,” says Colin. “Do they work? I mean, are they waterproof?”

  “A few of them have little leaks at the seams,” Jane says. “Some of them open more smoothly than others. Some of them are a little too heavy, as you probably noticed.”

  “Yeah, some of them are heavy.”

  “But I use them when it rains,” says Jane. “They work well enough.”

  “You’ll get better at the engineering,” says Colin. “It’s clear you have the talent, and the drive.”

  Jane can’t respond to this without more tears, so she keeps her mouth shut.

  “Will you let me take one to Uncle Buckley?” Colin says. “I think he might like to deal them.”

  “After what I said about them leaking?”

  “Well, not the leaking ones, obviously.”

  “But, don’t you see how crooked they are? Can’t you see the uneven seams?”

  “They’re handmade,” he says. “That makes them charming. There are people who would pay hundreds of dollars for these umbrellas.”

  “Oh, get out,” Jane says.

  “Rich people love to spend money,” Colin says. “If you let me show one to Uncle Buckley, we may be able to help you take advantage of it. It’ll make his day, which will make my day. I haven’t found anything interesting for him in a while.”

  “Well,” Jane says, flabbergasted. “Sure, I guess.”

  “I should really take a few,” he says. “Three or four, to show your brand.”

  My brand? Jane can’t begin to think what her brand is. But as Colin makes his selections, she can see that he’s choosing some of her favorites. The copper-rose and brown satin that she held on the boat because it seemed appropriate for a heroic journey. The oblong, deep-canopied bird’s egg umbrella that’s pale blue with brown speckles. The dome umbrella, designed, both inside and out, to look like the dome of the Pantheon in Rome.

  “I’ve never been there,” Jane says, “but Aunt Magnolia would talk about it as if it was a magical place. She said it rains right through the hole at the top of the dome, straight down into the building, but I didn’t think that would make for a practical umbrella design, so from the outside I show the view inside, and from the inside I show a view of the night sky. It’s painted silk, with glitter glued on for stars.”

  “What are you working on now?” he asks.

  “I’m—not sure,” Jane says. “I had an idea this morning, but now I’m getting a different idea.”

  “Excellent. You artists must follow the muse,” he says, his arms full of Jane’s umbrellas. She follows him into the bedroom, wanting to touch them again, to say good-bye. Her babies.

  “When will I hear back about them?” she asks anxiously.

  “I’ll send them today on the mail run,” Colin says. “Uncle Buckley’s in the city. He’ll probably get in touch in the next couple days.”

  * * *

  After Colin leaves, Jasper goes into the bedroom and burrows under the bed.

  “Fat lot of help you are,” Jane calls after him.

  At her worktable, she absently strokes a dusty blue fabric at the top of her pile, noting an unevenness in the dye, like a watermark, all across it. It reminds her of something. What? It’s a flaw in the fabric, but there’s something familiar about it.

  Using her waterproof fabric glue, Jane begins to glue points of glitter in various blues, sparingly, with no particular pattern, across the fabric, to accentuate the unevenness. She still wants to make the brown-and-gold self-defense umbrella, but right now, this uneven blue seems the right backdrop to her thoughts. Jane does some of her best thinking while she’s making umbrellas, if she’s working on the right umbrella.

  As she slices the uneven blue fabric into gores, Jane comes up with one possible story that makes sense of everything. Sort of. What if the Panzavecchias, in addition to being microbiologists, are art thieves, in cahoots with the servants at Tu Reviens, and together they staged a disappearance, so that no one would suspect them when they subsequently stole the Vermeer? And their little daughter Grace wants to be an art thief like her parents, so she stole the Brancusi? But since she’s eight, she did it badly? Like, maybe she broke the fish part off by accident, then, in regret, returned the pedestal?

  Or—maybe she doesn’t want to be an art thief, maybe she hates that her parents are art thieves, and maybe her parents stole the Brancusi. Then, in rebellion, she returned whatever part of it she could get her hands on?

  Jane can see the glaring holes in these theories. They don’t explain the Mafia, the involvement of the Okadas, or why Mrs. Vanders would have drawn attention to the forgery in the first place, among other things.

  Jane might think that there were two separate mysteries in the house, one about the servants, Okadas, and Panzavecchias, and one about art theft—if only she hadn’t seen that girl putting something on one of the tables in the receiving hall.

  She fashions a rosette for the place at the top of the canopy where the gores meet. If I were a better detective, she thinks, I would’ve thought to check the receiving hall to make sure she didn’t actually put something else there, not the pedestal at all.

  I suppose I should check it now.

  Jane pushes her gores back, sets her glue down, and wipes her hands on her work apron, leaving a tiny constellation of stars. As she stands, she notices little carvings on her worktable: a blue whale and its calf, swimming along the corner of the table’s surface. Moving her supplies aside so she can search the rest of the table, she also finds a shark and its shark babies along the top edge.

  Ivy made this worktable, then. Jane traces the carvings with her finger, wishing she didn’t like them so much.

  “Jasper?” she calls out, pulling off the apron and grabbing her sketchbook. His nose emerges from under the bed as she passes through the bedroom. Together they leave the rooms.

  “Aye, aye, Captain Polepants,” Jane says.

  Flipping open her sketchbook as she walks, she glances through her list of names, again wondering whom to trust. It’s amazing, really, how easy it is to imagine a story around each and every person, turning that person into a con artist. Lucy, for example, is perfectly positioned to steal art. No one would suspect her, and she could frame someone else for the crime. Kiran has nothing but free time, goes wherever she wants, whenever she wants, and doesn’t exactly put out a vibe of beneficence. Mrs. Vanders and Ravi could be in on it together, staging tragic discoveries of missing art to deflect attention from their involvement. After all, isn’t Ravi apparently known for acquiring peculiar Monets from someone, probably his mother? Couldn’t the Monet be a forgery? And didn’t he bring it straight to Mrs. Vanders?

  With a weary sigh, Jane flips her sketchbook closed.

  On the second-story landing, before Jasper can begin his usual blockade, she takes the initiative and crosses the bridge to the opposite landing. With a protesting yip, Jasper hesitates, then sits his rump in place, apparently deciding to wait there.

  Taking the west stairs down to the receiving hall, Jane wanders around the room, her big boots echoing on the checkered floor. The air reeks of lilacs. The various side tables are crowded with vases but also contain a few small, stark, modern-looking sculptures. A big family photo sits on one, Octavian with one arm around Ravi and his o
ther arm around a blond, white, youngish-looking woman. The blond woman has an arm around Kiran, who doesn’t look happy, exactly, but nor does she look like she wants to stab someone, which might be the most one can expect from a family photo of Kiran. Ravi is beaming out of the frame. Octavian too has an aspect of pleasure, maybe also of quiet pride. The blond woman, who must be Charlotte, is smiling, but with a touch of confusion, or distraction. Her eyes are focused on something far away.

  Jane picks it up, looking closer. Golden-orange nasturtiums hang on pink walls in the background of the photo. Jane wonders, could this be what the little girl delivered to these tables? Why not? It makes no less sense than anything else.

  She’s trying to rub away a strange, bloated sensation in her ears when she hears the closing of a camera shutter.

  With a grim unwillingness, Jane looks up at the third-story bridge. Ivy stands there, her camera raised to her face. She’s aiming it at a woman on the west landing who’s dusting a suit of medieval armor with a big, pink feather duster.

  If I asked, Jane thinks, she’d tell me she’s taking a picture of the suit of armor. But Jane doesn’t ask. She just watches Ivy, until Ivy lowers her camera and sees her.

  At the sight of her, Ivy flushes. Then her eyes drop and her mouth hardens with something like resentment. She turns and strides away.

  Jane feels as if someone has punched her lungs. Okay, she thinks. Ivy is mad at me for some reason. Whatever, she thinks, clapping the photo back onto the table and standing tall. I’m going to solve this mystery.

  Marching up the east staircase, she prepares herself for an altercation with Jasper, but this time he’s just watching her with a sad, droopy face. When she passes into the second-story east wing, he quietly follows.

  She stops at the end of the corridor, where a single empty bracket on the wall marks the Vermeer’s previous home.

  “You again?” says a faraway voice.

  Jane turns to find Lucy St. George walking down the corridor toward her.

  “And you again,” Jane says.

  “Yes,” Lucy says. “I wanted another look. Or maybe I’m just wandering. I do my best thinking when I’m moving around.”

 

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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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