During my time in New York, I found myself directly involved with an urban myth. I had been poking around, looking for news on Katy, but found something else. A curiosity to distract me for a few days.
I heard a story, a rumour about a girl. A young woman, who came to New York. She was a nobody. I couldn’t even tell you what she did for a living. But she used to turn up in a crowd. At the opera, at a gallery opening, at the ballet.
She had a series of one night stands, with a string of men. I was trying to work out what her type was. Apart from their wealth, they had little in common. But what puzzled me was when I saw her go home with a man I knew to be a common shopkeeper. A man of no consequence. Not handsome, I knew him well enough to know that his shop was worth little, it barely kept him in socks and tinned soup.
I followed her the next day. She went to the library, and into the art section. At a safe distance I watched her leaf through the books and take notes. After she left, I went to the shelf. Taking down the book I let it fall open at her last page. It was a painting by Caravaggio which I knew had recently come to New York.
At home I found the auction records online. It had been bought by a tycoon who lived on the Upper East Side. A crude man of some fortune.
After some investigation, I tracked him down. I shook hands with him at an exhibition, he was not magnetic. Why on earth was she interested in this painting. Maybe she was an art student, or a young journalist.
So, I concluded, the men are all owners of works of art, she inveigles an invite home with them so she can get close, not to them, not to the men, but to the art they own. So why the shopkeeper. What could he own? Sometimes, valuable works turn up in the oddest places. It’s not unheard of for a pauper to hang an old master on their wall. I was guessing that he owned some old painting via a relative. He was the penniless cousin of a somebody. Somebody had left him a couple of engravings in a will. The work must hang in a modest room above his shop. I could picture the place. A corner shop with a shabby awning. I called in there sometimes to buy cigarettes and we used to chat about The Ramones.
Next time I went into the shop, I asked the shopkeeper, “what’s the deal with your painting?”
He blanched, “how do you know about that?” he stammered,
“I know about art,” I said. Of course I was bluffing. I just knew he had a painting I had no idea which one.
“My father was from Paris,” he said, “Lautrec was my great grandfather,”
“Have you ever had it valued?” I asked,
“It’s sentimental,” he replied, “I would never want to sell it.”
“Can I see it?” I asked.
He looked at me suspiciously. “Maybe another time,” he said. “Come back next week.”
Image: Primavera by Connie