I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about, but I catch the word "opportunity." "And you're the devil?"
He shakes his head vigorously. "The devil's the one who gave me this opportunity. Although I've no idea who he is. He's levels away from me."
Although I meant it as a joke, he ponders the question, a professor attempting to answer a precocious student. "No. I guess that's wrong. Pawns are the better analogy. But clever pawns. Who can capture the queen. Either way, I'm mixing my metaphors."
"I've got no problem with the devil. I'm one of those people who thinks heaven would be boring. But being a pawn has never suited me."
This time he does laugh, but I can tell it's forced. "Then we'll stick with the devil."
Enough of this. "Okay," I say. "What are we talking about here?"
He locks his eyes on mine. "Something not quite on the up-and-up."
I don't break the stare. "I thought you said it was an opportunity to do good?"
"The end is good. It's just the means that are a bit iffy."
"There's illegal and there's illegal."
"And which one is this?"
Markel looks across the room at the Degas and Pissarro.
And now it all makes sense. "Oh" is all I can say.
He takes a sip of wine, relaxes into the lumpy couch. The most uncomfortable part of this conversation is clearly over for him.
I cross my arms over my chest. "I can't believe that after everything that's happened, you, of all people, would even consider asking me to forge a painting."
"How much does Reproductions.com pay you?"
"They pay me to copy, not to forge."
"So you said a fraction. A few thousand a picture? A little more?"
Often it's less, but I nod.
"I'll pay you $50,000. Plus expenses, of course. A third up front, a third on completion to my satisfaction, and the final third on authentication."
"Is this because of what happened with Isaac?"
"It's despite what happened with Isaac."
I'm stupefied by this answer, and it must have showed on my face, because he says, "You're the best for the project."
"Out of all the thousands of artists you know?"
Again, he looks across the room at the Degas reproduction. "You're the only one I'd trust with it."
"How do you know I won't talk?"
"It's not your style," he says, which is true. People who have been on the wrong side of rumor know when to keep their mouths shut.
"What about turning you in? I could always go to the police."
"Not when you understand what's at stake," he says.
"So tell me."
"I meant what I said about your paintings, Claire. You have a unique talent. You always did. Just because you've been blackballed doesn't mean you can't paint." He pauses. "I'd also like to give you a one-woman show at the gallery."
I barely conceal a gasp.
"In six, nine months," he says. "After you've finished this project. Do you think you could have twenty paintings ready by then? Of the realistic highly glazed?"
I turn away to hide my longing. My own show at Markel G. An impossible dream.
"I'm pretty sure I can get the same Times reporter who covered Jocelyn Gamp to cover you," he says.
The New York Times. Sales. Commissions. Studio visits from the Met. My heart actually hurts. "Claire, please look at me." When I do, he says, "I'll protect you. Like I said, I'm levels away from anyone with any knowledge, and you'll be a level away from me."
"What's the part where we get to do something good?"
Excerpted from The Art Forger by B A Shapiro. Copyright © 2012 by B A Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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