Authors: Lauren Carr
Instead of obeying, the dog barked in protest while standing his ground.
“Don’t give me your lip.” Mac pointed at the Viper. “Get in the car.”
The dog replied with a snarling bark.
“Get in the car.”
Gnarly’s barks rose in volume.
“In the car! Now!”
Hanging his head, Gnarly scampered to the car.
After uttering a heavy sigh, Mac turned to the two delivery men, who had been watching the argument with their mouths hanging open. “I’m sorry, gentlemen. This won’t happen again.” He turned to go back to the sports car. “What are you—Hey! That’s my iPod! Bad dog! Drop it!”
“He’s right,” Reggie said after returning to his seat in the van. “They’re nothing like Mickey Forsythe and Diablo.”
“Bad dog!” Mac chased Gnarly inside the house. “Up to your room and don’t come out. I want you to think about what you did.”
Instead of galloping up the stairs to the master suite, Gnarly jumped up onto the loveseat in the living room. Like a defiant child, the dog returned his master’s glare.
“Do what I say.” Mac pointed up the stairs. “You heard me.”
Still, Gnarly refused to move.
“I’ll teach you who’s boss.”
When Mac grabbed him by the collar, Gnarly pulled away. Keeping hold, he wrestled with the dog until he had him in a headlock. The two of them landed on the floor and rolled across the carpet toward the stone fireplace.
“Will you stop playing with Gnarly and open this box?” Archie called up to them from the dining room. “I’m dying to know what’s in it.”
Declaring himself the victor, Gnarly jumped up onto the loveseat and plopped down with an “Umph” noise.
Archie slipped the sealed envelope that had come with the package into Mac’s hand.
“Who said dogs are man’s best friends?” He frowned when he read the return address on the envelope. It was from a lawyer’s office. He asked the dog on the loveseat, “Are we being sued by another one of your victims?”
Gnarly snorted and shook so hard that the tags on his collar rattled.
“Since when do lawyers send huge packages special delivery to people they’re suing?” Archie waved an arm in the direction of the box. “You read the letter. I’ll open it to see what’s inside.” Without waiting for permission, she kicked off her shoes and went into the kitchen to retrieve scissors for cutting the cord and tape sealing it shut.
Gnarly galloped down the steps to sniff at the box that had invaded his home.
Meanwhile, Mac tore at the envelope, which contained a letter and another envelope. The inside envelope was addressed in blue script to Robin Spencer with the word
printed in capital letters underneath her name.
“What does the letter say?” Archie came back in from the kitchen. With the scissors, she broke through the plastic cord wrapped around the box.
Mac was still reading the first letter. “It’s a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo. This guy, Archibald Poole, died. He had left this to Robin Spencer. In the event of her death preceding his, it was to be passed on to her next of kin. Since that’s me, I get it.”
Archie stopped snipping. “Archibald Poole?”
Gnarly stopped sniffing.
“Did you know him?” He was breaking through the seal of the white envelope addressed to Robin.
“Creepy old man. One of those eccentric rich guys. He didn’t make it all on the up and up. I think Robin remained friends with him because he was good material for her books. He lived in a big mansion up on top of a mountain in southern West Virginia.”
Mac was only half paying attention. “He left Robin a painting.”
With one end unsealed, Archie peered inside the box to see that the contents were wrapped in brown paper and padding.
Sitting on the top step leading down into the dining room, Mac read the letter out loud:
If you are reading this, then I’m dead and you are now observing my gift to you. So, what do you leave to the girl who has everything? When that girl is Robin Spencer, it’s a mystery.
You will find that I have left you an Ilysa Ramsay painting. That alone makes it worth a fortune. But, ah, my dear Robin, this is not just any Ilysa Ramsay painting. It is her lost painting.
You will recall that Ilysa Ramsay was brutally murdered on your own Deep Creek Lake in the early hours of Labor Day in 2004. At the same time, her last painting was stolen from her studio where her dead body was discovered. She had unveiled what she had declared to be her masterpiece to her family and friends the same evening that she was murdered.
Grasping the frame wrapped in packaging, Archie tugged at the painting to pull it out of the box while Mac continued reading:
Everyone in the art world has been searching for Ilysa Ramsay’s last work of art. With only a handful of people having seen it; and no photographs taken of it before its theft; its value is priceless.
As my good luck would have it, a month after her murder, my guy called me. He had been contacted by a fence representing someone claiming to have the painting and wanting to unload it. Being familiar with Ilysa Ramsay’s work, I was able to authenticate it. Also, I had seen reports from witnesses who had described it as a self-portrait of Ilysa.
As I write this letter, Ilysa’s murder has yet to be solved. Nor do I know who had stolen the painting. It was sold to me by a third party.
And so, my dear lovely Robin, I leave this task to you. Here is the painting that the art world has been searching for, for years, and a mystery of who stole it, along with who killed its lovely artist. Enjoy, as I know you will!
My Love,Archibald Poole
Her yellow suit droopy, Archie slapped her hat down on the dining room table, and ripped through the padding to reveal the painting of a red-haired woman lying across a lounge with a red and green clover pattern. She was dressed in an emerald gown with a ruby red choker stretched across her throat. Ruby red jewels spilled down her throat toward the bodice.
Gnarly sat on the floor at Mac’s feet to gaze at the painting.
They studied the image together.
“Just what I always wanted,” Mac said. “A stolen priceless painting with a dead body attached to it.”
“Where is it?” Deputy Police Chief Art Bogart almost shoved Mac out of the way in his rush through the front door to see the painting. Spying it in the dining room, he sprinted across the granite floors.
It took less than ten minutes for Spencer’s deputy chief of police to arrive after Mac had called the station to ask about the cold case of Ilysa Ramsay on Deep Creek Lake.
Police Chief David O’Callaghan stopped on his way through the door to greet Gnarly in their usual manner. The German Shepherd planted his front paws on David’s shoulders to lick his face.
David was the main reason Mac had moved to Deep Creek Lake after coming into his inheritance. Along with the millions of dollars and the estate, Mac had also inherited his mother’s journal, which revealed that he had a half-brother by his birth father, Police Chief Patrick O’Callaghan. It was too late for Mac to have a relationship with his father, who had died from terminal cancer five years earlier; but it was not too late for Mac to form a warm friendship with his sibling.
“You have to excuse Bogie,” David said after easing the dog’s paws to the floor. “He was the lead investigator in Ramsay’s murder. Dad and Mom were on vacation when she was killed.” Casting an eye at where his deputy chief was examining the painting in the other room, he lowered his voice. “Bogie took it personally that he couldn’t solve this murder.”
“I’m surprised with it being such a big case, and here in Spencer, that Robin didn’t get involved in the investigation,” Mac asked.
He noticed David, Bogie, and even Archie, exchange quiet looks.
David cleared his throat. “Dad was diagnosed with cancer right before it happened. He broke the news after coming back from the Grand Canyon.” He added in a soft voice, “Needless to say, Robin had other things on her mind at that time…We all did…maybe that’s why the case went cold the way it did.”
Bogie’s voice boomed from the dining room. “Did that letter say anything about who he got the painting from?”
Archie answered by handing him the letters from both the lawyer and Archibald Poole. Bogie read them while Mac and David moved in to examine the painting.
“How much do you think this painting’s worth?” Mac asked the question he had been wondering since reading the letter written to his mother.
“Plenty,” David said, “Even if it turns out not to be Ramsay’s last painting. If it is, it’s worth a whole lot more than that.”
“How was it stolen?” Mac asked.
David knelt to take a closer look at the woman in the emerald gown. “Do you even know who Ilysa Ramsay was?”
“Painter,” Mac answered, “and she was a redhead.”
“I’ve seen a lot of Ilysa Ramsay paintings,” David said. “This is the only one that’s a self-portrait. That also adds to its value.”
“Who are those other people?” Archie asked.
While the red-haired woman was the center piece, there were other people placed at the outer edges or behind her. In the upper back corner of the canvas, a silver-haired woman in black plucked a harp with red-tipped fingers. Her expression was made more somber by a gaunt appearance that made her face resemble a skeleton.
“That’s the maid playing the harp. I recognize her by the gray hair.” David pointed at a man in a suit behind Ilysa standing over a voluptuous blonde seated at the grand piano. He peered down at her abundant cleavage while supposedly admiring a gold necklace from which hung a ruby heart. “That’s Neal Hathaway’s assistant, Susan Dulin, with his vice president in charge of security, Peyton Kaplan. With all the government contracts they do for defense satellites, security is a big thing at Hathaway Industries.”
On the other side of the canvas, a young couple drank champagne. David recognized the woman as Rachel Hathaway, and the man as her husband, Scott. Rachel fingered her diamond necklace while casting a glare at Susan and Peyton Kaplan.
Bogie was nodding his head. “Rachel’s a gold digger if I ever a saw one.”
Archie said, “Everyone in this painting is a suspect.”
“Nah!” Bogie argued, “She painted it before she was murdered.”
“Archie’s right. All of our suspects are in this painting.” David pointed to a slender man with a goatee sipping from a china cup. His long hair was tied back at the base of his neck. “Based on the pictures we have of him, that’s Victor Gruskonov.”
Mac asked, “Who’s Victor Gruskonov?”
“Ilysa’s business manager,” Bogie grumbled. “A person of interest.”
Mac asked about another couple on the opposite side of grand piano from the assistant and vice president. Their drinks rested on top of the piano. They were looking over their shoulders at Ilysa. The woman’s black hair, styled in a bob, was mixed with silver strands cascading over her head like a spider web. The lips of her wide mouth were painted red to match the color on her long fingernails. Between the spider web covering her hair and her blood red lips and nails, she reminded Mac of a creature from a horror film
“The woman is Nancy Kaplan,” Bogie said. “Peyton’s wife. The man is Neal Hathaway’s lawyer George Scales.”
Mac wondered, “Why isn’t she with her husband? Ilysa has her on the other side of the piano with another man.”
“Unfortunately,” David said, “the artist isn’t here to ask.”
“Do you notice who’s missing?” Archie asked them.
Bogie nodded his head. “Her husband. Neal Hathaway isn’t in this painting.”
David said, “Interesting. She painted everyone in her life, but not her husband.”
“Could it be a forgery?” Archie asked.
Mac’s heart sank at the vision of an unexpected windfall flying out the window.
“I doubt that,” Bogie said, “Archibald Poole knew art. As a matter of fact, I questioned him after the murder. The little bastard was known to collect stolen pieces of art for his own private collection. I had a good idea that whoever stole it would have sold it to him.” He waved the letters in his hands. “Damn it. I was right all along. He did have it.”
Mac asked, “Could he have been connected to Ramsay’s murder?”
“Poole wasn’t into murder.” David stood up and stepped back from the painting. “Ilysa Ramsay was married to Neal Hathaway. They lived lakeside on Pelican Court.”
Mac asked, “The rocket scientist?”
“They had only been married a couple years at the time of the murder,” David said. “She was making a name for herself in Europe when they met. Hathaway married her and brought her to the states and financed her career. He’s a big patron of the arts. He introduced her to all the right people. She was on her way to becoming famous here in the States. She had a huge showing at the Lourve in Paris for October, but she was killed four weeks before her showing.”