The Fake
Mood Indigo
While I was getting my jacket on, Dad had come into my room and seen the painting hanging above my bed. Either he wasn’t paying close enough attention or I’d done as good a job as I hoped.
We ate pizza and tried to laugh. We didn’t exactly succeed, but we achieved the outward appearance of a father and daughter who were enjoying an afternoon out.
When we came home I wasn’t sure if it had even happened. The apartment was exactly as we’d left it—with boxes piled up around the front room and various packing accessories scattered along the coffee table and couches.
But then I entered my room. For the second time that week the frame was empty.
I called to Dad, trying to sound as horrified as possible.
He came running.
The look on his face made me question everything.
How could I do this to him?
“Stick to the plan and everything will be okay.” That’s what Grayson promised. I knew it was crucial that Dad and I were convincing victims. If Dad was anything less than totally distraught over the loss of his masterpiece the buyer might not believe he had Garden Valley at all and who knew what they’d do then. Dad was a lousy actor, so it had to be real for him. Even if it hurt.
Plus, I promised Grayson.
I cried with Dad on the corner of my bed, letting out every tear I’d held in over the past week. It wasn’t hard to be believable. I had plenty of tears to cry.
I called the police and they came and searched the house.
One of them checked doors for forced entry, while another checked security cameras and the magnetic entry files for the building. Grayson said he’d take precautions, but I was still worried they’d find something.
Marda came around two-o’clock carrying a big bag of meat and vegetables for dinner. The policewoman who’d stayed with us asked if Marda would come down to the station for a few questions. Nothing serious, she promised. They just wanted the full picture.
The police gave Dad comforting nods and promises to do everything in their power to get it back.
But he didn’t believe them.
Neither did I really.
When Grayson suggested gluing a GPS tracker onto the corner of the canvas I knew somehow it wouldn’t be enough. Whoever was behind this was smart enough to search for anti-theft devices. And even though it was no bigger than a dime I knew they’d find it. That version of Garden Valley—the one I’d spent every day and night that week painting and perfecting and obsessing and crying over—was gone forever.
But that was okay.
What wasn’t okay was the broken man sitting beside me on the couch. The man who’d lost nearly every single thing in his life and then lost the one thing he had left.
“Are you okay, Daddy?” I whispered, holding his shaking shoulders and wishing I could take the tremor, the pain, the loss and rejection from him and hold it until he was right again.
He sobbed.
“We’re still leaving tomorrow,” I assured him. “The police said they could do all this remotely. They don’t need anything else from us for the investigation. We can go home. To our house. Just you and me again.”
He nodded and looked at me with tear-stained cheeks and red eyes. “I can be okay, you know.”
I tried to smile. “I know you can. We just need to get back to where we belong.”
He shut his eyes and smiled, probably thinking just what I was thinking, that in twenty-four hours we’d be in our mountains. We’d sleep in our beds and breathe our air. It would make things better, I was sure of it.
“You know,” he said, wiping his tears with his sleeves. “It was just a thing. They were all just things—the paintings, I mean. They were beautiful and they held a piece of me, of us, but they were just things.” He looked at me and smiled. “You are what I care about. As long as you are okay and happy, so am I.”
The drive from the Boise airport was winding and slippery. Dad’s friend Garrett had been nice enough to drive his old truck out to meet us. The heat didn’t work well and one of his windows wouldn’t roll all the way up. He’d jerry-rigged a winter solution out of duct tape and twenty layers of plastic wrap, but it didn’t quite keep all the wind out.
We didn’t care.
The drive through the mountains, alongside the still roiling Payette River and hill after hill of frost tipped evergreens, was instantly rejuvenating.
I’d missed it all so much more than I’d let myself admit.
The further up we drove the whiter the drive became, simplifying the palette from the grey, blue, brown, and red, of the city to just green and white in the mountains.
So simple, yet so beautiful.
Garrett was the sort of man who didn’t read news or talk about anything other than fishing, which made him the perfect person for that particular car ride.
He diverted us with talk of his fall trips up to Horsethief Reservoir and the time he caught a rainbow trout the size of a full-grown salmon. He made us laugh with a story about of his wife Marie trying to get a swallowed hook out of a cutthroat and by the time we reached Cascade, New York felt like a distant memory.
The view for our homecoming couldn’t have been more breathtaking. The sun peeked through the clouds, shining on the snow that blanketed the meadows and farms on the side of the highway. Each flake seemed to reflect the sun’s brilliance, making the whole vista seem dreamlike.
I longed for a brush, or at least a camera, but they were all packed in boxes that the moving company wouldn’t pick up from our New York apartment until tomorrow.
It didn’t matter though. The snow with its white innocence reminded me that this was a fresh start, and not only that, but a fresh start in the place I loved best.
I tried not to think about Grayson. I needed the world to be black and white. Right and wrong.
But it just wasn’t.
None of it. Including everything I’d done, I realized.
Grayson did care about me. I believed that now. He wouldn’t have come last week and risked so much if he didn’t care. He would have let the people steal what they wanted.
But just because he still cared didn’t mean I’d totally forgiven him. I wasn’t sure I could ever really forgive him for what he’d done.
It didn’t stop me from thinking about him though—from replaying each kiss and trying to remember the feel of his hand on my face or his arm around my shoulder. Those moments would always live in my memory.
We got a call right after we got home. Our home phone only worked on speaker, since I’d dropped the actual receiver part in the sink when I was five and Dad had never even considered buying a new one because it still worked if you knew how to use it. He clicked the speaker button and said hello.
“Mr. Foster,” a woman’s voice said.
“Yes,” Dad replied, hovering over the phone.
“This is Detective Chase from the NYPD. We have a little a news on your case.”
Both he and I perked up, hoping that maybe something had been recovered.
“We brought in your housekeeper to question her about the magnetic entry card she used to open the service entrance. It appears hers was the only one to be used within the timeframe of your home robbery.”
“Marda would never…” Dad began.
“She didn’t. Or at least she didn’t do that part. We believe someone else copied her keycard. But, during questioning she confessed to something else. It appears she was the one who leaked information about Garden Valley being in your daughter’s room.”
Dad and I looked at each other, stunned.
“I’m sorry to distress you,” the woman said. “The good news is we got an anonymous call that led us to a man we believe was involved with both this theft and the one at the gallery last week. Marda was able to identify the man who paid her to talk. We have him in custody now and the evidence is mounting for a successful prosecution.”
Dad nodded.
“Unfortunately, it appears he already got rid of the paintings and so far we don’t have any leads as to where they may be.”
Dad closed his eyes and exhaled.
“I’ll be honest. In situations like this it’s rare that we recover anything. But we’ll try.”
I called Sydney after that, full of guilt and shame over my lack of trust in her. Of course she hadn’t been the one to give us away. Of course she was as true a friend as I thought she was.
She answered on the first ring. “Claire! I’ve been trying to call you all week, is everything okay?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Things have been…”
“I saw the news. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. I wish I could have done something to help. At least see you again before you head home.”
Guilt swelled in my chest. She didn’t even know we’d left New York. My distrust had cost me saying goodbye. “We’re actually already home.”
“Oh,” Sydney said.
“I should have called. Things were just crazy…you know?”
She paused for a moment and then said, “Of course.”
“Maybe you could come for a visit?”
“Maybe,” she said doubtfully. “Mom and I are headed to Paris on Friday. They want to send her to Milan after that.”
I nodded silently.
“Sydney, thank you. For everything.”
My old best friend, Heidi, called the next day. She’d been on a cruise with her family over the holiday break and had just heard Dad and I were home.
“You’ll never guess who got hot while you were gone,” she said, her voice giddy.
I wondered if anyone here had heard the news about New York. I kind of hoped they hadn’t.
“Who?” I asked forcing my voice to sound interested as I poured Dad a glass of milk.
“Ben Nichols!” She giggled. “Can you believe it? Skinny Benny. Apparently he spent the summer on his dad’s farm moving irrigation pipe and driving the tractor. Then he took two weeks off school for harvest in October. And Claire, holy cow, has it done his body good!”
I laughed in earnest, as I put the milk away. I missed this easy friendship.
“He and Robby are putting together a snowmobiling trip this weekend. We’d love it if you could come.”
I picked up Dad’s glass and carried it to the table, setting it in front of him. He grinned and picked it up, his hand trembling as the white liquid sloshed against the sides.
“Maybe next time,” I said, holding Dad’s hand to steady it. “We’re still getting settled.”
I could practically see Heidi’s eye roll as she sighed. “Well, you better come out soon because Ben isn’t spoken for yet, but there are about twenty girls working on him, including me, to be honest, and he might not wait around for you forever.”
I laughed again. “I’ll definitely keep that in mind.”
The doorbell rang and I told Heidi I’d talk to her later.
I opened the door and joy swirled inside me.
“I have a package for you, Claire,” Greg, who’d been our mailman as long as I could remember, said. “Something fun from New York, I hope.”
“Yes!” I said so enthusiastically that Greg took a step back. “Thank you so much.”
I waved goodbye, shut the door, and brought the cylindrical shaped package into the kitchen.
“Dad,” I said, trying to calm my excitement. “I have something for you.”
He set his glass down and raised his eyebrows, curious.
I opened the tube and pulled a giant mass of bubble wrap and glassine paper. I unrolled each carefully, revealing the painting underneath.
The real Garden Valley.
Shock registered on Dad’s face.
I took a deep breath. “I sent it last week. Before the robbery.”
“But, then…” He said, trying to connect the dots. “What did they steal?”
I sat in the chair across from him with my elbows on my knees. “A fake.” I said, smiling. “They stole a fake.”
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