“You mean if he can make a profit?”

“It happens all the time. If you wanted to make an offer, on the horse chestnut or indeed any of the works, I could relay it and see what response it receives.” And how much of an incentive would it take? Buell thought it would have to be substantial. “The man’s a private buyer, not a dealer, so he wasn’t planning on this, but who doesn’t like to turn a quick profit? The prospect of a ten percent gain wouldn’t move him, but if he could double his money, well, that might be a difficult temptation to resist.”

“In other words, offer him twenty-four thousand?”

Buell gnawed on a fingernail. “May I make a suggestion? Round it up to twenty-five. It’s a far more impressive number.”

“It’s impressive,” Keller allowed.

“And I daresay you’re impressed with it yourself, having expected to take home the painting for twelve. Still, you could pay twenty-five or even thirty-five thousand for that painting and still come out well ahead.”

“You really think so?”

“Absolutely.” Regis Buell leaned in close, let his voice drop. “Look how rapidly the entire show sold out. Declan Niswander’s price is about to shoot through the roof. If you were to ask my advice, I’d tell you to offer the twenty-five and go higher if you have to. And, if the buyer were to ask my advice, I’d have to tell him not to sell.” He smiled conspiratorially. “But he may not ask. Would you like me to sound him out?”

Keller said he’d have to think about it.

“First I had to reach the guy,” Dot said, “and then he had to reach his guy, and then he had to get back to me.”

“It’s always something,” Keller said.

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“The questions surprised him, but he came back with answers. The client thinks Williamsburg ’s perfect, and he doesn’t care how many people come to the party. If you want to make an omelet you’ve got to break some eggs, and you might as well cap a few mushrooms while you’re at it.”

“And if the wife’s around-“

“Fine with him. Remember how he wanted it dramatic? I guess that comes under the heading of drama.” She cleared her throat. “Other hand, Keller, it doesn’t sound much like your kind of thing.”

“No, it doesn’t. What about the gallery? He have anything to say about that?”

“He didn’t like the idea.”

“What didn’t he like about it? Never mind, I don’t want an answer.”

“Then you’re not going to get one,” she said. “What do you think of that?”

Monday morning he went over his bid sheet, then addressed an envelope to a dealer in Hanford, Oklahoma. Lately the ads were full of Internet auctions. You could buy and sell online, and when your stamps came you could use special philatelic software to design your album pages and other software to maintain an inventory of your holdings.

Keller didn’t have a computer and didn’t want one. He figured he was spending enough money already.

He mailed the letter on the way to Grand Central and caught a train to White Plains. When he got to Taunton Place Dot opened the door for him and he followed her to the kitchen. The TV was on, tuned to a game show, but the sound was off.

“You took me by surprise,” she said. “What’s wrong, Keller? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I, uh, phoned.”

She rolled her eyes. “I know that. You phoned and I said come on up. Oh, that explains the look. You thought I’d forgotten our phone conversation. You figured I was starting to go ga-ga, just like the late lamented. No, I think I’ve got a few more years yet before my brain turns to jelly. All I meant was I didn’t hear your cab drive up. Or pull away, either, as far as that goes. What did you do, make him drop you at the corner?”

“No, I-“

“Remember when he had everybody doing that? He got it in his head it drew attention, people coming here all the time, so everybody had to walk a block or two, and that really drew attention. Did you walk a block or two?”

“I walked from the station.”

“All the way from the station?”

“It’s a nice day.”

“It’s never that nice,” she said. “You must have been in a big hurry to see me.”

“If I’d been in a hurry, I’d have taken a cab.”

“Keller, I was being sarcastic.”

“Oh.”

“For all the good it did me. Let me look at you. I guess it’s not much fun, working in your own city. Bright side, you’re not dead or in jail. You think there’s a chance of wrapping this up while that’s still true of both of us?”

“It’s all settled.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m not the sarcastic one,” he said. “I handled it over the weekend. It’s all taken care of.”

“Account closed.”

“Yes.”

“End of story.”

“Right.”

“You never said a word on the phone, and you always do.”

“I’m usually calling from out of town. I figured I’d be here soon enough, I’d tell you in person.”

“And you usually seem, oh, what’s the word I want? Triumphant? Not bursting into song necessarily, and maybe even a little reserved, but like you’re the cat bringing in the dead mouse. Pleased with yourself.”

“I’m pleased.”

“Any minute now you’re going to do handsprings. I can tell.”

“Well, it was complicated,” he said, “and it took a while. And when it was done I didn’t get to pack up and go home.”

“Nothing to pack. And you were already home. How’d you do it?”

“The subway.”

“Is that how you got out to Williamsburg? Oh, the subway’s how you did it.”

“An oncoming train.”

“And a body on the tracks. ‘Did he jump or was he pushed?’ You know what’s funny? So many times they want an accident, and it’s not always possible to stage it so it gets past forensics. But this guy wanted a big splash, and what you gave him is something that’ll go in the books as an accident.” She frowned. “Although when a whole subway train runs over you, ‘big splash’ is not an entirely inappropriate phrase.”

“The client won’t complain.”

“I don’t even care if he does,” she said, “because we’re not working for him again, or for anybody else in New York. So I’d just as soon he doesn’t ask us.”

“He won’t.”

She gave him a sharp look. “There’s something you’re trying to tell me,” she said, “and I have a horrible idea I know what it is. Am I right?”

“How do I know?”

“Keller, do I have to send the money back?”

“No.”

“And when can I expect the rest of it? I can’t, can I?”

“No.”

“Because the client’s had trouble writing checks ever since he took the A train.”

“It wasn’t the A train.”

“Keller, I don’t care if it was the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe.” She sighed heavily. “You might as well tell me all about it.”

Where to start? “I figured out who the client was.”

“And a good thing, too, or you wouldn’t have known who to kill.”

“It was the gallery owner,” he said, and explained how Niswander had changed allegiances. “Galleries get fifty percent of sales. Buell had worked hard and spent a lot of money building Niswander up, and now the guy was going with somebody else, and on top of that he was telling his friends and patrons not to buy anything from his last show with Buell. They should wait and spend their money with the new dealer.”

“So Buell was angry,” she said, “but angry enough to kill? And it’s not as if you work for minimum wage. He was throwing good money after bad.”

“What he was throwing was bread upon the waters. Do you know what happens when an artist dies?”

“They give him an enema,” she said, “and bury him in a matchbox.”

“His price goes up. They know he’s not going to flood the market with new pictures, and that he doesn’t have his best work ahead of him. So there’s a scramble for what he managed to complete before his death.”

“So every artist is worth more dead than alive?”

“No,” he said, “but Niswander is a rising star, just beginning to hit his stride. That’s why Buell was so upset at the prospect of losing him. And, if Niswander happened to be murdered in some dramatic fashion, that would give things a major boost.”

“But what would Buell get out of it? He was losing Niswander after the show, and didn’t you tell me everything in the show was already sold?”

He nodded. “Niswander told everybody not to buy. And Buell sold out the entire show overnight.”

“Got it. He sold them to himself.”

“Plastered the walls with red dots the minute his assistant went home for the night. Four hundred thousand dollars is what the prices added up to, but he would have only had to pay half of that to Niswander. And, if the artist happened to be dead, he could probably take his sweet time settling with the estate.”

“And if Mrs. Niswander got killed, too, he might never get called to account. No wonder he didn’t care how many mushrooms wound up in the omelet.”

“More publicity, too. Artist, Whole Family Slain in Brooklyn Rampage. More hype for the Niswander mystique.”

“And he’d be sitting on forty paintings, with the price set to go through the roof.” She frowned. “That’s a pretty extreme thing, killing off your own artists so you can make more money on them. I don’t know much about ethics in the gallery business, but I’d call that pretty low.”

“Most people would.”

“On the other hand,” she said, “did you happen to notice what kind of a house we’re in?”

“Victorian, isn’t it? I don’t know a whole lot about architecture.”

“I’m talking metaphorically, Keller, and that makes it a glass house, and what do you think we shouldn’t do?”

“Throw stones?”

“Especially at our own clients.”

“I know.”

“Because they tend to be moral lepers, but what the hell do you expect? Albert Schweitzer never hired a hit man, and neither did the guy in the loincloth, and-“

“The guy in the loincloth?”

“They made a movie about him. He was little and he talked funny and at the end he got shot. You know who I mean.”

“It sounds like Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar,” he said, “but are you sure he never hired a hit man? Because it seems to me-“

“Christ almighty,” she said. “Gandhi, all right? Mahatma Gandhi, from India. Okay?”

“Whatever you say.”