I woke up, sandwiched between Will and Sharon on a very narrow bed, the morning sun streaming in the window, with someone knocking on the bedroom door.
Before I could figure out what I was supposed to do, I heard the door open, and Jan Sleet’s voice said, “Oh, gracious.”
“I thought I locked the front door last night,” I said as I squirmed around to face the detective, feeling Sharon and Will wake up on either side of me.
Next to Miss Sleet was a teenage girl, with a crew cut and several tattoos. She shrugged. “You should really get a better lock,” she said. “I barely had to slow down to walk through that one.”
“We can talk about that later,” the detective said. “We’re here to open that door across the hall.”
“Miss Sleet?” I put in.
“Yes?” she asked as Will got out from under the covers and padded toward the door. As his naked form was revealed, the detective’s hand whipped up to cover the eyes of her young associate.
“I discovered something yesterday…”
“Hey!” protested the tattooed girl as Will left the room.
“I don’t know how significant it is–“
“But you’re thinking, or at least hoping, that it is significant indeed. Should we hear it before my young friend here opens that door across the hall? Do you know what we’ll find in there?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. That’s the part I’m less sure about. But I do know–”
The detective held up a hand. “Let’s reconvene in the living room, when everybody is properly dressed, so we can hear your story. Then we’ll deal with the locked room.”
She and the tattooed girl left the room. As Miss Sleet reached behind her to close the door, I heard the girl say, “She’s cute.”
Apparently this was in reference to me, because Miss Sleet responded, “He’s spoken for.”
I glanced at Sharon, who was smiling as I hadn’t seen in the last twenty-four hours. “‘Spoken for,'” she said slowly. “I never heard that before.” I was about to say something educational, but she hugged me. “I know what it is,” she whispered.
“Now,” Miss Sleet said as she stood in the center of the living room. Will, Sharon, and I were on the sofa, and the tattooed girl sat cross-legged in one of the armchairs. “Since you are not a professional, Michael, you don’t get to do a big, dramatic revelation. You have to take me through it step by step, from the beginning, so I have a chance to see where, or if, you’re making a mistake.”
She seemed stern, but I could tell, or I thought I could tell, that she was enjoying this.
“Okay,” I said. “Well, it started the night before last, when I was lying in bed. Sharon had fallen asleep, but I was having trouble relaxing for some reason. I was looking at the painting at the foot of the bed. It was obviously by the same painter who did the ones in here.”
I gestured at them, and Miss Sleet looked around. “I can understand your distress,” she said, shaking her head.
The tattooed girl looked at the paintings with what looked like approval, but she didn’t speak.
“I had only met Mr. Bostwick once, but Sharon has told me about him since I met her, and… he didn’t seem like the sort of person who would like art which was so disturbing. Not to have it in every room of his house.”
Jan Sleet nodded. “So far, so good. I’ve known Mr. Bostwick for several years, and that agrees with my assessment of him.”
“So, I thought maybe they were something the Golden enjoyed. That seemed to make sense, and I fell asleep. But then, yesterday, when you were here, and you suggested Will and Sharon take a nap.” She nodded. “I sat here for a minute before I went out to make the phone call, to Mr. Bostwick’s daughter. I looked at the paintings again, and something came to me.” I turned to Sharon. “Do you remember when we looked at the textbook about art?”
She looked up at me sharply.
“No.. Not… when we looked — actually looked — at the book, not when we…”
I knew I was blushing, and I didn’t turn to see Will’s expression, but Miss Sleet and the tattooed girl were certainly amused.
“When we looked… at the book,” I persisted, “at the textbook about the psychology of art, what did we discover?”
Sharon shrugged, not sure where I was going with this. “I couldn’t see a lot of the illustrations, not really. Our eyes — mine and…” She gestured at Will. “We don’t see colors that well, not on flat surfaces. Black text on a white page, that we can see fine, but one color and another…” She shrugged. “These paintings in here mostly look like blank rectangles to us.”
“So, who did want these paintings in here?” I asked. “I decided to find out more about them. A couple of them are signed — ‘Postera’ — so when I went to the city today to call Mr. Bostwick’s daughter, I also talked to my art professor. It took a couple of calls, but I found him, and I asked him about Postera.”
Jan Sleet had sat down in the other armchair and she was leaning forward, her hands crossed on top of her cane. “And?” she asked.
I pulled a piece of paper from my pocket. “‘Postera’ was the signature of an experimental artist named Norman Post. He was somewhat successful during his life — he had a few shows in small, avant-garde galleries — but since his death almost twenty years ago he has become quite… collectable, as my professor put it. I think he — my professor — was trying to convey that the paintings were valuable but that he didn’t like them.”
“Interesting,” the detective said, leaning back in her chair, “but you’ve brought us back to two questions that we are still unable to answer.” She held up a long, bony finger. “If Mr. Bostwick knew the value of the paintings, then why didn’t he sell them so that all three of you could afford to go to college, and– ” a second finger “–why did he have the paintings on his walls if we are correct that they were not to his taste?
“Mr. Post was Mr. Bostwick’s… friend.” Will said.
Sharon nodded. “He always used to say it that way, with the pause before the word ‘friend.'”
“We thought that probably meant something.”
“But we weren’t sure.”
“And it seemed as though he–“
“–didn’t want to talk about it.”
“So we didn’t ask.”