The Visiting Detective – Episode 03

GABY liked this street of galleries and antiques shops, running at ninety degrees from Regent Street in the cosier part of Mayfair. The windows of the galleries were crammed with the very latest art – the most eclectic and expensive that London had to offer from the young artists of 1966. She was interested in modern art, the all-white or all-black canvases, the graphic anti-war prints, the crazy sculptures of tin cans or crocheted magnetic tape. The more extraordinary the better, Gaby thought.

“What’s all this rubbish?” Robinson said loudly in his Scouse accent.

“It’s art, Detective Sergeant,” Gaby said.

He sniffed. Gaby looked at him out of the corner of her eye. She’d have to do something about the way he looked if she was going to be stuck with him for weeks. He was really bringing down the tone. His physique, she decided, was perfectly acceptable – tall and lean with a pleasantly long neck and upright bearing – and his face not absolutely unattractive, but as for the rest!

“Here’s the place,” Robinson said. “Duchesne Gallery.”

Gaby rolled her eyes at his pronunciation.

“That’s ‘doo-shane’,” she said patiently, “not ‘doo-chesney’.”

“Spiffing,” he said.

*  *  *  *

The gallery owner was a paunchy man in his fifties with short legs, a polo neck sweater and a very anxious demeanour, though the last wasn’t surprising. Gaby noticed that his shoes were by Salvatore Ferragamo, but had seen better days. She was sympathetic: one did not throw away a pair of Ferragamos until one absolutely had to. The master of Italian footwear.

Gaby introduced herself and DS Robinson.

“I can’t believe they took my Louie Danston,” Mr Duchesne said plaintively. “It’s the most valuable painting currently hanging here.” He winced. “I mean, not hanging here any more.”

He showed them the gap on the wall.

“That’s the only picture that was stolen?” DS Robinson asked.

Mr Duchesne nodded.

“A disaster.”

DS Robinson looked around the room.

“Do you think that implies,” he said, “that the thief, or thieves, know the market? That they took the painting that would fetch the most?”

“I suppose so,” Duchesne said miserably.

“And how much is it worth?” Gaby put in. Robinson seemed to be taking over the questions, and that would never do.

Mr Duchesne sighed.

“At least forty thousand pounds. Danston is all the rage at the moment, and he paints fewer than three pieces a year. I will have to buy it.” He shut his eyes for a moment. “I hope to goodness the insurance company co-operates.”

“Do you have a photograph of the work?” Gaby asked.

Mr Duchesne fetched a book of photographs.

“I keep a full record,” he said.

To Gaby’s annoyance, he handed the photo book to Robinson. Gaby watched Robinson unhook the particular photo from its paper brackets and turn it over, looking at the back. He sniffed.

“Is this really it?” he said.

Mr Duchesne frowned.

“If you are unfamiliar with Danston’s work, you should know that he paints mainly in brown. His subjects are the deeper aspects of the male psyche.”

Robinson held the photo up to the light and turned it by ninety degrees, twice.

“Give it to me,” Gaby said sharply. She snatched the photo and gave Mr Duchesne a knowing look. “My colleague here is not especially interested in art,” she said.

“Well, it looks like mud to me,” Robinson said.

“May I keep this?” Gaby said. “And can I see where you believe the thieves got away?”

At the back of the gallery was a door to a single-storey extension which Gaby knew immediately was more of a private viewing area. It had comfortable and fashionable green velvet seating and long glass coffee tables, tinted in the same bottle green as the seating. She privately admired the chairs. This was where, she guessed, Mr Duchesne brought clients to talk them into parting with large sums of money for new art. A drinks cabinet sat in one corner, and Gaby could see bottles of good spirits through the glass.

Towards the centre of the room a wooden kitchen chair stood in a space. She and Robinson both looked up.

“They used this skylight,” Robinson said.

“Very good,” Gaby said in a patronising tone. Robinson glared at her.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.