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Author: Sue Grafton

Series: Kinsey Millhone #24

Genres: Mystery

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IN THE BEGINNING . . .


Teddy Xanakis would have to steal the painting. What other choice did she have? She believed it was a Turner—a possibility she couldn’t confirm unless she shipped it to the Tate in London, where the Turner scholars, Evelyn Joll and Martin Butlin in particular, could make a judgment about its authenticity. Unfortunately, the painting was currently in the basement of the house that was now solely in Ari’s name, where it had sat for years, unrecognized and unappreciated. She might have blamed herself for the oversight, but why on earth would anyone expect to find a priceless painting in such homely company?


She and Ari had bought the house when they moved from Chicago to Santa Teresa, California. The estate had been owned by the Carpenters, who passed it down from generation to generation until the last surviving family member died in 1981, having neglected to write a will. The estate attorney had locked the doors and put the house up for sale. Teddy and Ari had bought it fully equipped and fully furnished, right down to the rolls of toilet paper in the linen closet and three sets of sterling flatware in the silver vault. The antiques, including several exquisite Persian carpets, were appraised as part of the purchase price, but in the process a small group of paintings had been overlooked. The attorney had paid the taxes owed, handing the IRS and the State of California the hefty sums to which they were entitled.


Teddy and Ari had made use of a number of the antiques in furnishing the mansion’s first and second floors. The rest they’d moved into the complex of storage rooms below. The paintings were in a cabinet in an upright rack, each leaning against its neighbor. Teddy had come across them shortly after they moved in. Over the years she’d developed an eye for fine art, but these paintings were drab and uninteresting. The subject matter was classical: nymphs, mythological figures, Roman ruins, a seascape, heavy-legged peasant women bringing in the harvest, a still life with a dead duck and rotting fruit, and a floral arrangement in colors she didn’t care for.


It was after she and Ari divorced and they’d both signed off on the settlement that she’d realized one of the paintings she’d so carelessly dismissed might be an original by Joseph Mallord William Turner, whose work sold at auction in the millions.


Her rationalization for the contemplated theft was as follows:


1. Ari had no appreciation of art. The collection she’d put together comprised the works of a group known as Les Petits-Maîtres—minor Impressionists like Bartoli, Canet, Jacques Lambert, and Pierre Louis Cazaubon, whose paintings were still affordable because the artists themselves had never achieved the legendary stature of Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and their ilk. The collection had already been awarded to her in the settlement, so why not this one small additional painting?


2. If Ari realized the true value of the painting, they’d only get into another wrangle as to which of them was entitled to it. If they couldn’t agree, which seemed inevitable, a judge could force a sale and divide the money equally between them. In this one tiny instance, money didn’t interest her. The Turner was a treasure she’d never see again in her lifetime and she was determined to have it.


3. Ari had already screwed her over once, quite literally, by having a dalliance with Stella Morgan, the woman Teddy had once considered her best friend.


Stella’s husband, Douglas, was the architect who’d designed the remodel of a condominium Ari and Teddy owned in downtown Santa Teresa. It was while he was overseeing construction that he was stricken with a fatal heart attack. Months passed. After the remodeling work was finished, Ari and Teddy continued to see Stella, who had adjusted to her widowhood as best she could with all that money as compensation.


Then came disaster. That September Teddy spent a weekend in Los Angeles, attending a seminar at the Getty on the Plein Air Painters. On Monday when she arrived home, she hadn’t been in the house an hour before an acquaintance rang her up and gave her a blow-by-blow. Teddy’s options were limited: fight, flight, play dead, or screw him. She’d slapped Ari with divorce papers within the week.


He got the house, which she couldn’t afford to maintain in any event. She got the flat in London. He got a sizable chunk of jewelry, including the necklace he’d given her for their tenth anniversary. She freely confessed she was bitter about that. The stocks and bonds had been sorted out between them. The division was fair and square, which pissed her off no end. There was nothing fair and square about a cheating husband who’d boffed her best friend. In a further cruel twist of fate, in the division of their assets, Teddy had been awarded the very condominium where the architect had breathed his last.

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