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Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep 4


  “So, to what do I owe this pleasure?” he asks the wall.

  “I’ve heard good things about you. They say you’re a very selective seller.”

  “I don’t sell to fools.” He sprays out some steamed milk with a flourish. “Unless they know they’re fools. That’s different. If someone comes to me and says, ‘My friend, I know nothing about art, but I wish to begin collecting. Would you advise me?’ This person I will help.” Another hissing jet of steamed milk. “But these pretentious WASP millionaires make me puke. They took art criticism at Yale, or their wife majored in Renaissance masters at Vassar. They know so much, what do they need me for? For cachet, yes? So fuck them. My cachet is not for sale.”

  “Not to them, anyway.”

  He turns with a grin and offers me a steaming cup. “I love your accent. You’re from South Carolina?”

  “Not even close,” I reply, stepping forward to take the mug.

  “But the South. Where?”

  “The Magnolia State.”

  He looks perplexed. “Louisiana?”

  “That’s the Sportsman’s Paradise. I’m from the home of William Faulkner and Elvis Presley.”

  “Georgia?”

  I’m definitely in New York. “Mississippi, Mr. Wingate.”

  “Learn something every day, right? Call me Christopher, okay?”

  “Okay.” After Ron Epstein’s characterization of Wingate, I half expected the man to make some crack about Mississippi being the home of the lynching. “Call me Jordan.”

  “I’m a huge fan of your work,” he says with apparent sincerity. “You have a pitiless eye.”

  “Is that a compliment?”

  “Of course. You don’t shy away from horror. Or absurdity. But there’s compassion there, too. That’s why people connect with your work. I think there would be quite a demand, if you were inclined to market it as fine art. Not much photography really qualifies, but yours . . . no doubt about it.”

  “You’re not living up to your advance billing. I heard you were a son of a bitch.”

  He grins again and sips his cappuccino. The pure blackness of his eyes is startling. “I am, to most people. But with artists I like, I’m a shameless flatterer.”

  I want to ask him about the painting in the crate, but something tells me to wait. “It’s been said that a photograph can be journalism or art, but not both.”

  “Such crap. The gifted always break the rules. Look at Martin Parr’s book. He turned photojournalism upside down with The Last Resort. Look at Nachtwey’s stuff. That’s art, no question. You’re every bit as good. Better in some ways.”

  Now I know he’s bullshitting me. James Nachtwey is the preeminent war photographer at Magnum; he’s won the Capa five times. “Such as?”

  “Commercial ways.” A glint of mischief in the black eyes. “You’re a star, Jordan.”

  “Am I?”

  “People look at your photos—stark, terrible, unflinching—and they think, ‘A woman was standing here looking at this, recording it. With a woman’s sensitivity. A woman has stood this, so I must stand this.’ It floors them. And it changes their perspective. That’s what art does.”

  I’ve heard all this before, and while largely true, it bugs me. It smacks of Not bad, for a girl.

  “And then there’s you,” Wingate goes on. “Look at you. Hardly any makeup, and still beautiful at—what?—forty?”

  “Forty.”

  “You’re marketable. If you’ll suffer through a few interviews and an opening, I can make you a star. An icon for women.”

  “You said I’m already a star.”

  He barely skips a beat. “In your field, sure. But what’s that? I’m talking pop culture. Look at Eve Arnold. You know who she is. But if I walk downstairs and ask a hundred people on the street, not one will know. Dickey Chappelle wanted to be a household name. That was her dream. She schlepped all over the world, from Iwo Jima to Saigon, but she never became what she most wanted to be—a star.”

  “I haven’t schlepped all over the world to become a star, whatever that means.”

  A feral gleam in the eyes betrays a new level of interest. “No, I believe that. So, why? Why do you traipse from pillar to post, cataloguing atrocities that would shock Goya?”

  “You haven’t earned the answer to that question.”

  He claps his hands together. “But I already know it! It’s your father, isn’t it? Dear old daddy. Jonathan Glass, the legend of Vietnam. The shooter’s shooter.”

  “Maybe you are a son of a bitch after all.”

  The smile widens. “I can’t help it, as the scorpion said to the frog. It’s my nature.”

  Some of the biggest bastards I ever met were charismatic, and Wingate is no exception. My gaze settles on the crate between us.

  “And the way he died,” Wingate exults, “shooting a Pulitzer-winning roll of film. That’s mythic. Then his daughter follows in his footsteps? It’s a legitimate phenomenon, no hype required. We could do a double show. Talk about free publicity. Who controls the rights to your father’s images?”

  “I don’t believe my father died in Cambodia,” I say in a flat voice.

  Wingate looks as though I just told him I don’t believe Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “You don’t?”

  “No.”

  “Okay . . . so . . . that’s even better. We could—”

  “And I’m not interested in exploiting his work for money.”

  He shakes his head, his hands imploring. “You’re looking at it all wrong—”

  “What painting is so wonderful that you have to keep it this close to you?” I interrupt, pointing at the packing crate with my free hand.

  Momentarily off balance, he answers without thinking. “It’s a painting by an anonymous artist. His work fascinates me.”

  “You like looking at pictures of dead women?”

  Wingate freezes, his eyes locked onto mine.

  “Are you going to answer my question?”

  He gives a philosophical shrug. “I’m not here to answer your questions. But I’ll answer that one. No one knows if the subjects are dead or not.”

  “Do you know the identity of the artist?”

  Wingate sips his cappuccino, then sets his mug on the counter behind him. I slip my hand into my pocket to feel the cold, reassuring metal of the Mace can.

  “Are you asking as a journalist?” he asks. “Or as a collector?”

  “All I can afford to collect is experiences and passport stamps. I figured you could tell that with one look at my shoes.”

  He shrugs again. Shrugs are a major part of this guy’s vocabulary. “One never knows who has money these days.”

  “I want to meet the artist.”

  “Impossible.”

  “May I see the painting?”

  He purses his lips. “I don’t see why not, since you already have.” He walks around to the open side of the crate, braces his feet against the bottom, and reaches in for the frame. “Could you give me a hand?”

  I hesitate, thinking about the claw hammer, but he doesn’t look like he wants to bludgeon me to death. Having been in situations where people wanted to do just that, I trust my instincts more than some people might.

  “Hold the other side while I pull,” he says.

  I set my cappuccino on the floor, then take hold of the other side of the crate while he slides out a padded metal frame that holds the gilt frame inside it.

  “There,” he says. “You can see it now.”

  I’m torn between wanting to step around the crate and wanting to stay right where I am. But I have to look. I might recognize one of the victims who was taken before Jane.

  The instant I see the woman’s face, I know she’s a stranger to me. But I could easily have known her. She looks like ten thousand women in New Orleans, a mixture of French blood with some fraction of African, resulting in a degree of natural beauty rarely seen elsewhere in America. But this woman is not in her natural state. Her skin should be c
afé au lait; here it’s the color of bone china. And her eyes are fully open and fixed. Of course, the eyes in any painting are fixed; it’s the talent of the artist that brings life to them. But in these eyes there is no life. Not even a hint of it.

  “Sleeping Woman Number Twenty,” says Wingate.

  “Do you like it better than the paintings downstairs?”

  Only now do I see the rest of the painting. The artist has posed his subject against a wall, knees drawn up to her chest as though she’s sitting. But she is not sitting. She is merely leaning there, her head lolling on her marbled shoulder, while around her swirls a storm of color. Brightly printed curtains, a blue carpet, a shaft of light from an unseen window. Even the wall she leans on is the product of thousands of tiny strokes of different colors. Only the woman is presented with startling realism. She could have been cut from a Rembrandt and set in this whirlwind of color.

  “I don’t like it. But I feel . . . I feel whoever painted it is very talented.”

  “Enormously.” Genuine excitement lights Wingate’s black eyes. “He’s capturing something that no one else working today is even close to. All the arrogant kids that come in here, trying to be edgy, painting with blood and making sculpture with gun parts . . . they’re a fucking joke. This is the edge. You’re looking over it right now.”

  “Is he an important artist?”

  “We won’t know that for fifty years.”

  “What do you call this style?”

  Wingate sighs thoughtfully. “Hard to say. He’s not static. He began with almost pure Impressionism, which is dead. Anyone can do it. But the vision was there. Between the fifth and twelfth paintings, he began to evolve something much more fascinating. Are you familiar with the Nabis?”

  “The what?”

  “Nabis. It means ‘prophets.’ Bonnard, Denis, Vuil lard?”

  “What I know about art wouldn’t fill a postcard.”

  “Don’t blame yourself. That’s the American educational system. They simply don’t teach it. Not unless you beg for it. Not even in university.”

  “I didn’t go to college.”

  “How refreshing. And why would you? American institutions worship technology. Technology and money.”

  “Are you American?”

  A bemused smile. “What do you think?”

  “I can’t tell. Where are you from?”

  “I usually lie when someone asks that question. I don’t want to insult your intelligence, so we’ll skip the biography.”

  “Hiding a dark secret?”

  “A little mystery keeps me interesting. Collectors like to buy from interesting dealers. People think I’m a big bad wolf. They think I have mob connections, criminal clients all over.”

  “Do you?”

  “I’m a businessman. But doing business in New York, that kind of reputation doesn’t hurt.”

  “Do you have prints of other Sleeping Women I can see?”

  “There are no prints. I guarantee that to the purchaser.”

  “What about photographs? You must have photos.”

  He shakes his head. “No photos. No copies of any kind.”

  “Why?”

  “Rarity is the rarest commodity.”

  “How long have you had this one?”

  Wingate looks down at the canvas, then at me from the corner of his eye. “Not long.”

  “How long will you have it?”

  “It ships tomorrow. I have a standing bid from Takagi on anything by this artist. One point five million pounds. But I have other plans for this one.”

  He takes hold of the metal frame and motions for me to brace the crate while he pushes the painting back inside. To keep him talking, I help.

  “For a series of about eight paintings,” Wingate says, “he could have been one of the Nabis. But he changed again. The women became more and more real, their bodies less alive, their surroundings more so. Now he paints like one of the old masters. His technique is unbelievable.”

  “Do you really not know if they’re alive or dead?”

  “Give me a break,” he grunts, straining to apply adequate force without damaging the frame. “They’re models. If some horny Japanese wants to think they’re dead and pay millions for them, that’s great. I’m not complaining.”

  “Do you really believe that?”

  He doesn’t look at me. “What I believe doesn’t matter. What matters is what I know for sure, which is nothing.”

  If Wingate doesn’t know the women are real, he’s about to find out. As he straightens up and wipes his brow, I turn squarely to him and take off my sunglasses.

  “What do you think now?”

  His facial muscles hardly move, but he’s freaked, all right. There’s a lot more white showing in his eyes now. “I think maybe you’re running some kind of scam on me.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I sold a picture of you. You’re one of them. One of the Sleeping Women.”

  He must not have heard about what happened in Hong Kong. Could the curator there have been afraid to risk losing his exhibit?

  “No,” I say softly. “That was my sister.”

  “But the face . . . it was the same.”

  “We’re twins. Identical twins.”

  He shakes his head in amazement.

  “You understand now?”

  “I think you know more than I do about all this. Is your sister okay?”

  I can’t tell if he’s sincere or not. “I don’t know. But if I had to guess, I’d say no. She disappeared thirteen months ago. When did you sell the painting of her?”

  “Maybe a year ago.”

  “To a Japanese industrialist?”

  “Sure. Takagi. He outbid everybody.”

  “There were other bidders for that particular painting?”

  “Sure. Always. But I’m not about to give you their names.”

  “Look, I want you to understand something. I don’t give a damn about the police or the law. All I care about is my sister. Anything you know that can help me find her, I’ll pay for.”

  “I don’t know anything. Your sister’s been gone a year, and you think she’s still alive?”

  “No. I think she’s dead. I think all the women in these paintings are dead. And so do you. But I can’t move on with my life until I know. I’ve got to find out what happened to my sister. I owe her that.”

  Wingate looks at the crate. “Hey, I can sympathize. But I can’t help you, okay? I really don’t know anything.”

  “How is that possible? You’re the exclusive dealer for this artist.”

  “Sure. But I’ve never met the guy.”

  “But you know he’s a man?”

  “I’m not positive, to tell you the truth. I’ve never seen him. Everything goes through the mail. Notes left in the gallery, money in train station lockers, like that.”

  “I don’t see a woman painting these pictures. Do you?”

  Wingate cocks one eyebrow. “I’ve met some pretty strange women in this town. I could tell you some stories, man. You wouldn’t believe what I’ve seen.”

  “You get the paintings through the mail?”

  “Sometimes. Other times they’re left downstairs, in the gallery. It’s like spy novels—what do they call that? A blind drop?”

  “What legitimate reason could there be for that kind of arrangement?”

  “Well, I thought it might be the Helga syndrome.”

  “The what?”

  “The Helga syndrome. You know Andrew Wyeth, surely?”

  “Of course.”

  “While everyone thought all he could do was rural American realism, Wyeth was secretly painting this woman from a neighboring farm. In the nude. Helga. Wyeth kept the paintings secret, and they were only revealed years later. The first Sleeping Woman I got was simply left here. It wasn’t one of the early ones. It was from his Nabi period. As soon as I saw it, I recognized the talent. I thought it might be by an established artist, one who didn’t want it known that he
was experiment ing in that way. Not until it was successful, at least.”

  “How do you pay him? You can’t leave millions in train station lockers. Do you wire the money to a bank account somewhere?”

  A languid expression comes over Wingate’s features. “Look, I sympathize with you. But I don’t see how this part of my business is your business, okay? If what you say is true, the police will be asking me all this soon enough. Maybe you’d better talk to them. And I better talk to my lawyer.”

  “Forget I asked that, okay? I’m not trying to hurt you. All I care about is my sister. All these women disappeared from New Orleans. Not one has been found, alive or dead. Now suddenly I discover these paintings in Hong Kong. Everyone assumes the women are dead. But what if they’re not? I have to find the man who painted these pictures.”

  He shrugs. “Like I said, we’ll just have to wait for the police to sort it out.”

  A buzz of alarm begins in the back of my brain. Christopher Wingate does not look like a man who would welcome the attention of police. Yet he is stalling me by claiming he wants to wait until they become involved. It’s time to get out of here.

  “Who knows about all this?” he asks suddenly. “Who else have you told?”

  I’m wishing my hand was in my pocket, wrapped around the Mace can, but he’s watching me closely, and the hammer is within his reach. “A few people.”

  “Such as?”

  “The FBI.”

  Wingate bites his bottom lip like a man weighing options. Then a half-smile appears. “Is that supposed to scare me?”

  He picks up the claw hammer, and I jump back. He laughs at my skittishness, then grabs a handful of nails, puts a few in his mouth, and begins hammering the side panel back onto the crate, like a man taking maximum precautions to protect his treasure.

  “Every cloud has a silver lining, right?” The nails between his lips make him answer out of one side of his mouth. “The FBI starts investigating these paintings in a murder case, they become worldwide news. Like the guy in Spain who murdered women and posed them like Salvador Dalí paintings. That means money, lady.”

  “You are a bastard, aren’t you?”