Much Ado about Naughty-Jade

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
One of missing artist Naughty-Jade's paintings is stolen from an Art Gallery the day before the openning of an Exhibition of her art work...

Submitted: July 21, 2017

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Submitted: July 21, 2017

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Much Ado about Naughty-Jade

Ana Esther

 

Still very sleepy, yawning and rubbing his eyes, Nick Abbott picked up the receiver of his modern replica of a 1960s stylish telephone from his original Louis XIV bedside table. Before answering he looked at his gold watch, 9:10 am. Who on earth could be calling him at this early hour?

‘Yes… What? Oh, no…’

He jumped hastily out of his 18thC solid-timbered four-poster and ran to the bathroom. In a few minutes he was ready. He resented but under such circumstances he would have to skip breakfast. Mrs Darling, his dear old maid, twisted her mouth reprovingly as he waved her goodbye. Down at the garage, his driver Morris awaited him with a puzzled look. Nick Abbott stopped to consider his cars for brief seconds, and pointing to his traditional red Ferrari made his way towards it. Morris rushed first to open the door for his master and then to take the driver’s seat.

‘Where to?’

‘Oh, Morris, Morris… to the art gallery, please. We’ve been broken into. I know I’m a good man, why such a thing happens to me, Morris?’

On their way from Kirribilli to Manly, Nick Abbott confided to Morris his discomfort in having to deal with a police investigation at his art gallery, press conferences and all the annoying consequent errands he would have to face. But, certainly, nothing bothered him most than having to deal with that greedy Mr Rupert Thompson.

As Morris was parking the Ferrari on the art gallery drive, Nick Abbott caught an undefinable glance from the policemen and the TV reporter towards him. He would have to be brave and tackle the situation.

‘G’day, Mr Abbott. We’re sorry about this… but we’re already done here. Your manager confirmed that apparently nothing was stolen but the new Naughty-Jade canvas. Well, one can say you’re lucky, good on you!’

‘One canvas only? You’re kidding me!’ Nick Abbott shook hands with the police officer and walked toward his manager, Ms Mac Ferris. He gave a friendly blink to the art reporter Rose Goddard, his old acquaintance, to let her know he would soon be with her.

As he learned the gist of the facts from Ms Mac Ferris, he became calmer and his self-assertiveness returned. At least nobody was harmed, nor any work of art nor the shop’s priceless pieces of furniture suffered any damage whatsoever, and no major destruction was done to the premises of his beloved art gallery, The State of the Art, with the exception of the entrance door knob. The only item stolen was definitely the star of the new exhibit, the recently found painting by polemic painter Naughty-Jade. Fortunately, both his gallery and the stolen canvas were fully insured. There was nothing to worry about, really.

He had, nonetheless, a burdensome day. His time was painfully spent in short meetings to talk the subject over with police investigators at the police station, with the media to cancel the exhibition’s opening ceremony, with the insurance guys, and also with some colleagues and friends who dropped by the gallery to offer their support… but what’s more, to talk face to face with Mr Rupert Thompson.

Mr Rupert Thompson was the art dealer who brought to Nick Abbott this unheard-of painting by the missing painter, the famous Naughty-Jade. As was his habit, Mr Rupert Thompson would occasionally visit the markets not only in the Sydney region but throughout the whole New South Wales and Queensland as well. This time the art dealer was struck by this rarity at a bric-a-brac stall at the Glebe Market. According to him, his eye met the canvas just by chance as it was stored overlooked at the back of the stall up a pile of other canvases for sale at the astonishing price of A$10.00 each. Mr Rupert Thompson himself examined the painting and felt pretty sure it was an original but decided to take it to Nick Abbott for a second opinion.

Both art experts concluded that, in spite of the oddity of the whole affair, it was indeed an authentic painting by Naughty-Jade. As a matter of fact, ever since the painter’s mysterious disappearance, about some five years ago, a few other paintings of hers have just popped up in similar ways… at either markets or garage sales. Mr Rupert Thompson himself had already found three.

Now inspired by the novelty of the new finding, Nick Abbott agreed to sponsor this exhibit of Naughty-Jade’s work in his art gallery showing that painting as a highlight and the only piece for sale at an auction set for the last day of the exhibit. All the other works on display belonged to art collectors, all fans of the missing artist. As the police officer had just stated, Nick could well consider himself lucky that none of those other paintings were stolen, this way he had only Mr Rupert Thompson to contend with. But, funnily enough, the art dealer took it all more than easily to Nick Abbott’s utter amazement.

Back home in the evening, he had dinner with Mrs Darling and Morris his loyal and caring helpers since his childhood times. They took to chatting about the theft over and over, Mrs Darling would not hide her curiosity and asked many questions. Morris on his turn could not understand the burglar’s weird mind-set.

‘Sorry, but this is too much for me… why would someone go through such a risky business to steal only one painting while he could easily grab many more?’ Morris rubbed his chin.

‘Precisely, Morris dearest… the ends are not meeting! There must be some reasonable explanation behind it all. To break into a richly decorated art gallery, full of costly paintings, sculptures, and all sorts of art objects only to steal one of the simplest paintings on display. It’s hard to believe it…’

‘Right, Mrs Darling, the guy must be totally insane or merely stupid!’ Nick Abbott swayed his head flabbergasted.

‘Pardon me, Nick, but I think he’s neither…’ Morris breathed and locked his eyes on his young master. ‘I do believe the man knew very well what he was doing…’

 

It was long into the night and Nick Abbott’s desperate but futile efforts to fall asleep were driving him crazy. He could not wipe out Morris’ reckoning from his raving mind. Was his dear driver getting too old or maybe had he a far overactive imagination? Or was there actually some underlying truth behind such reasoning?

Worn out from not being able to sleep he got up and went to the bedroom’s veranda. Looking at the Sydney Harbour at that hour always gave him a thrilling sense of endurance and all the lighting effects on its architectural masterpieces filled him with a certainty that humanity can be good and worship beauty transcending our natural baseness. But then his eyes got blurred and the enigmatic theft of Naughty-Jade’s painting came back to his mind.

‘Why? Why would someone do this? Morris must be right after all. As it is… it just makes no sense!’ Nick Abbott said to himself greatly annoyed. ‘But I will find out this missing link!’ Happier about this sudden determination, he returned to his four-poster and slept like a baby until late in the morning.

He woke up with a one-track mind, to solve the mystery of such a ridiculous break-in of his art gallery. Morris drove him, in his yellow Jaguar, to The State of the Art right after lunch. Ms Mac Ferris threw him a surprised look at his arrival, she even admitted she felt rather relieved to count on him at this unusual moment.

‘My dear Mac, I know I overload you with too much work… and all I do is cherish the beauties which we have here…’ Nick Abbott kissed Ms Mac Ferris’ hand as he was used to do. ‘But I came here because I need your opinion…’

‘Nick…’

‘…about the theft, you know, Morris came up with ideas regarding it that I need to go through and investigate.’

‘Investigate??? Oh, no… have I thrown stones at Christ’s cross to deserve this predicament?’ Ms Mac Ferris patted his shoulder with tenderness. ‘Speak up!’

‘I knew I could trust you, Mac, my love! Right to the point: why would you steal a mediocre painting when you could easily pocket priceless works of art?’

‘Hum… haven’t thought of that…’ Ms Mac Ferris stood up and went to her desk, picked a note pad and returned to sit by Nick Abbott’s side on a coach that used to belong to a deceased rock star. ‘Let’s put on paper all possibilities no matter how impossible they smell.’

‘There you are… a professional detective!’ Nick Abbott’s eyes shone with excitement. ‘Write down then… you want your five minutes of fame on TV if you get caught…’

‘Oh, come on, what dingbats would…’ Ms Mac Ferris waved an agreeing sign. ‘Ok, I’ll accept it… how about to test one’s chances of breaking into the gallery for real at a later date?’

‘Oh, goodness, Mac, that’s very feasible, we do need to be extra careful about our alarm system…’

‘Sure. Hum, how about to distract the police while another robbery takes place somewhere else?’ Ms Mac Ferris took her task seriously.

‘Check it out with the police officer later, Mac, will you?’ Nick Abbott frowned and realized the subject was not a childish play. ‘I’ve been thinking… what if there is an unknown value to the stolen canvas that we don’t know but the thief did?’

‘Well, that’s pretty scary, Nick, sounds like a movie script.’ Ms Mac Ferris bit her lips as she wrote it down. ‘In this case the whole thing takes a different turn, a theft with a purpose.’

‘That’s more like it! Morris believes the burglar knew exactly what he was doing!’

‘Golly! Let me think… Assuming the theft wasn’t for the money and that it happened on the eve of the opening of the exhibition when the painting would be shown to the world-’

Nick Abbott cut her in, stood up and got all jumpy. Ms Mac Ferris followed him with her eyes as he walked in circles right in front of her and just repeating oh, oh, oh… It was not until he drank some water that he calmed himself down and could speak again.

‘Mac, can’t you see where you’re getting at?’ He sat by her side and stared her in awe. ‘The thief didn’t want people to see the painting!’

‘Hey, this sounds all too farfetched, Nick. I’m afraid you’re getting carried away and start romanticizing the affair...’

‘No way!  See, it’s crystal clear to me now, there must be something in that painting that the thief doesn’t want anybody to find out!’ Nick Abbott’s body shook all over.

‘Nick…’

 ‘Mac, maybe it has to do with Naughty-Jade’s disappearance…’ Nick Abbott burst his idea out but became immediately thoughtful.

 ‘Oh, Nick, come off it, my darling. This is sheer lunacy, love.’ Ms Mac Ferris pressed his hand in hers. She left him alone on the couch and walked to her desk to make a phone call, dismissing thus any possibility to even consider the matter again.

 

Disheartened, Nick Abbott was about to leave when he caught sight of some promotional material for the ill-fated Naughty-Jade Exhibition on Ms Mac Ferris’ desk. The bizarreness surrounding this shadowy robbery reminded him of his promise to find out the truth. Nothing would discourage him.

Brooding on Ms Mac Ferris’ brainstorm list of probable crime intentions he remembered that the gallery portfolios and files contained photographic records of all the works of art they ever kept. He pasted the Naughty-Jade file into his own pen-drive without telling his manager not to bother her any further and then with renewed enthusiasm he kissed Ms Mac Ferris goodbye.

He invited his driver to a coffee by the Manly esplanade in order to have a word with him in a quiet and cosy place. Nick Abbott could hardly wait to discuss with Morris the latest piece of news he had about the Naughty-Jade’s canvas case.

‘Oh, Morris, Morris… please, help me with these photos. We need to find a good quality one of the Naughty-Jade’s painting… I bet we’ll spot the answer to the mystery right there!’

‘Nick, though I agree with you that it may be very likely… try not to get too disappointed if…’ Morris patted Nick Abbott on the shoulder.

‘Too late now, I’m sure we’re in the right track! Hey, here’s N-J’s file… let’s open it and scroll down through all this rubbish…’

‘How odd! She used to paint scattered words in most of her work…’ Morris hold Nick Abbott’s arm in order to slow down the viewing time of each painting.

‘Sure, that was a reason many art critics rejected her as a true artist and classified and discarded her as rather an “ecologist with a painting talent”. He pointed on his tablet some of Naughty-Jade’s most famous paintings. ‘See, help the platypus, help the Great Barrier Reef, oh, and this one’s shocked the art world… look at this! Help the Arnhem Land…’

‘Aha… no wonder they call her Naughty, now I see why!’

‘Exactly, Morris. And that’s why some people did attribute her missing case to political reasons…’ Nick Abbott frowned but kept scrolling down until he found the photo of the stolen canvas. ‘There we are, Morris!’

‘Hey… in this one there’s only the word HELP…’ Morris held his chin as he stared attentively at the photo.

‘Oh, yes, not very engaging this time… just a general call for help…’ Nick Abbott said and made a sign to the waiter.

‘Not really, Nick! If one takes into account that she’s been missing for such a long time… maybe you have here a desperate call for help… to help her, Nick!’ Morris’ eyes bulged as he and Nick stared open-mouthed at each other.

‘You’re a genius, Morris! It must be that for sure. That’s why the canvas had to go missing as well…’ Nick Abbott’s body grew tense. ‘In that case, the thief has to be the person who kidnapped Naughty-Jade, I mean, I can only believe she was really kidnapped…’

‘It’s too serious, Nick. It’s getting out of our hands, we’d better tell the police.’

‘You’re right, Morris… but first let’s try and find some more clues from the painting.’ He stopped short to order some more coffee as the waiter arrived. His mind was totally focused though, he urged Morris to keep thinking.

On the screen, the photo of the painting showed a row of beach houses along a road suspended in the air near the clouds while one could see the seashore under it. Naughty-Jade’s characteristic word help hovered above the row of houses. Nick Abbott zoomed in and out in an attempt to see any hidden message.

‘Oh, Morris, Morris… Why is this road floating like a cloud, it makes it almost impossible to identify the place. Somehow it looks familiar to me …’

‘Pretty similar to our shores around here.’

‘I knew it! Have a look, Morris!’ Nick Abbott pointed the row of houses. ‘These houses have been totally distorted but it’s definitely Whale Beach or Palm Beach… see the lighthouse under the cloud?’

‘You may be right, Nick!’ Morris became pale. ‘Check it out on the satellite map, quick!’

They accessed the map on the tablet and searched for the roads in that area until they did find an identical row of houses. Their astonishment grew as Nick Abbott zoomed in and they could properly identify the very same houses depicted in the painting with the exception that they sported different colours, a great degree of distortion and, of course, were floating in the sky. Another, striking, difference made them stop breathing.

‘Goodness, Morris, there’s a house on the map that went missing in the painting!’ Nick Abbot could not believe his eyes.

‘That’s the clue, Nick.’ Morris held his head with both hands dumbfounded.

‘The house is missing just like Naughty-Jade… and that’s where she’s being kept!!!’ Nick Abbott sprang from his chair and they left the Café in a hurry after having paid the bill.

Morris tried to dissuade his master but Nick Abbot was adamant. He put his feet down and Morris finally obeyed, they headed towards Palm Beach. Not a single minute could be wasted. Naughty-Jade’s life depended on them if their reasoning turned out right. On the way, however, Nick Abbott rang the police officer in charge of the theft case and summarised their idea and told him they were about to reach the address hinted by Naughty-Jade in the painting.

 

The house was not missing in real life and Nick Abbott and Morris stood right in front of it. It looked abandoned and the front door was wide ajar. Morris stayed outside but Nick Abbott walked into the living room hesitating and calling out for Naughty-Jade. He kept calling for her while checking out all rooms. No door was locked. Back at the kitchen Nick found a trap door. It too was opened.

‘Morris!’ He yelled. ‘Come over, I found something…’

It took Morris a long time to join Nick Abbott and when he did the police came along. The officer used a torch to go down the basement. Once there, he turned the lights on. What Nick Abbott, Morris and the other policemen witnessed with fright was a sound proof room full of painting material… Dozens of paintings signed by Naughty-Jade were piled up in a corner.

‘All this for nothing, Morris! We were too late.’ Horror-struck, Nick Abbott leaned on Morris for support.

‘Cheer up, Mr Abbott, we’ll take on the investigation from here.’ With a sympathetic smile the officer patted his shoulder. ‘We’ll start by looking for the property’s owner, someone called…er… Rupert Thompson.’

‘Rupert Thompson? Oh, Morris, Morris…’ Nick Abbott gaped.


© Copyright 2017 Ana Esther. All rights reserved.

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