Bellingham Mysteries 6: Pentimento Blues

Nicole Kimberling

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The Final Mystery Now that small-town reporter Peter Fontaine has gotten hitched to the man of his dreams, he thinks his days of solving crimes are over. But after a decades-old secret is revealed, a dead body is found and Pete...
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The Final Mystery

Now that small-town reporter Peter Fontaine has gotten hitched to the man of his dreams, he thinks his days of solving crimes are over. But after a decades-old secret is revealed, a dead body is found and Peter’s husband Nick is at the top of the suspect list. Peter must harness his power of ultimate nosiness to find one last killer.

As Sam negotiated his car down the long, winding drive, he returned to the subject of his research, this time disguised as a compliment.

“You can really see that this structure was made to house art,” Sam commented as Peter’s house came into view. “It’s almost like a museum. Do you know who the architect was?”

“No, but I’m guessing you’re about to tell me it was Walter.”

After all, Peter thought, what couldn’t Walter do—apart from come out of the closet in one of the world’s safest environments to do so?

“Not at all,” Sam said, laughing. “It was Monroe Addison. Another of us PNW boys. He committed suicide after it was revealed that he’d raped a girl. I think this house might have been one of the last buildings he designed before hanging himself.”

Listening to Sam speak, Peter wondered for the first time if he sounded as callous when he spoke offhandedly of subjects like rape and suicide. Certainly Nick would have known this Addison guy, right?

Or maybe not. Maybe he was just feeling defensive on Nick’s behalf.

“So did any members of the Werks Collective get a happy ending?” Peter asked.

“Nick Olson seems to have.” Sam’s smooth rejoinder caught Peter off guard, and he found himself smiling stupidly at the flattery. Sam continued, “But then he wasn’t ever an official member of the collective. I think most of de Kamp’s friends considered him a trophy, which was never the case.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Peter said, “I consider him a prize.”

“That’s so sweet, but what I’m saying is that de Kamp’s journals clearly state that he took Olson on as a true protégé rather than just some muscular, young paramour,” Sam said. “Is there anywhere I should park?”

“Next to the Audi.”

Sam followed Peter into the modernist, cliffside dwelling, making light commentary that expressed his further appreciation of the architecture and architectural details, including the twelve-foot double-entry front doors.

“Very practical,” he said admiringly.

From the foyer, Peter glanced down the long hallway that led to Nick’s studio. The door was completely closed, and their cat, Gigi, lay on the carpet outside. If she’d been evicted, Nick must be working on something delicate and important.

Best not to trouble him.

Or wake the cat.

She had a habit of mauling new visitors, leading more than one person to remark that she must be the eponymous “wildcat” of Wildcat Cove.

Sam walked through the foyer at a brisk pace, then stopped mid-stride as he caught sight of Nick’s wedding present to Peter. The huge painting took up most of a two-story wall designed to display a gallery-sized canvas. In hues of sand, linen, and Payne’s Gray, Nick had created what looked like a landscape—possibly even the landscape directly below this house. Most visitors saw sandstone cliffs beneath the specific blue-gray of the Pacific Northwest sky.

But a few saw the human figure in the painting. And some, such as Peter’s best friend, Evangeline, understood how dirty it was.

Peter hoped against hope that somehow Sam would be one of the naive multitude who didn’t see Peter’s spread legs and erect penis jutting like a geological extrusion up between them. Not that he was shy—he’d been the one who had hinted heavily that Nick should immortalize him in a painting. But he’d found, during the last couple of years, that he had a thin skin when it came to people’s remarks regarding the canvas.

That was strange in itself, since he never took any other sort of criticism to heart and he got plenty for both his choice of subject matter and actual writing.

Somehow, though, because the painting had been a gift made specially for him, Peter wanted everyone to love it as much as he did and therefore couldn’t help but be slightly offended if they didn’t.

Sam stood, eyes riveted to the massive painting. Finally he said, “I saw this painting when I was here for your wedding. It’s a breathtaking work now that it’s finished.”

“It’s a favorite of mine too,” Peter said casually, “but didn’t you want to look at the blue de Kamp? It’s over here near the kitchen.”

“Of course,” Sam said. He took a few steps and turned back to gaze again at the painting. “Do you mind if I take a picture of this piece?”

“Nick doesn’t allow photos of paintings he hasn’t shown yet. I’m sorry,” Peter said. “You could ask him yourself, though. He’s probably in his studio right now.” Peter gestured down the long hallway.

“Oh, it’s all right. I completely understand. There’s no need to trouble him. I just…” Sam trailed off, staring upward in a way that Peter found familiar but couldn’t place. After a few seconds he realized that the expression on Sam’s face resembled one of the old paintings he’d seen on his honeymoon in Vienna—the rapture of some saint or other. “It’s everything I hoped it would be.”

“I’m glad you like it.” Peter felt an embarrassed flush redden the back of his neck. Was Sam coming on to him? It didn’t seem likely, but then what did he know? “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Anything with caffeine,” Sam replied. “I have a lot of work to do tonight.”

“I’ve got pod espresso.”

“Sounds fantastic,” Sam said. He followed Peter as he made his way toward the kitchen, stopping in front of the only de Kamp painting still on display in the house.

This smaller canvas hung behind their dining-room table, mainly because Peter liked the shade of blue as well as the fragmentary, overlapping planes depicting different dimensions of the same image.

What was that image? Waves, maybe? Or the sky?

Some mythical landscape inside Walter’s head?

“So what makes you so interested in the blue painting?” Peter asked as he riffled through the box of coffee pods for one that wasn’t decaf. He found one, popped it into the machine, and hit the Start button. The smell of fresh coffee curled through the large kitchen as the espresso began to brew.

“Well, I suppose I like this painting because it’s the most classic de Kamp I’ve ever seen.”

“How so?” Peter glanced over his shoulder.

“Every part of it is cold, cubist, and authoritative.” Sam straightened from where he had bent close to look at the bottom edge of the canvas. “Here you have an artist who keeps himself under strict self-control, never ceding any power to his subject. As a painter de Kamp restrains his subject matter to his sharp definitions. He even goes so far as to chop it up into these fragments—only showing small glimpses of any one aspect.”

Peter considered the painting, which, he hated to admit, he’d previously only seen as a series of pleasing shapes and colors rather than any sort of statement. Finally he said, “I see what you mean, but it makes me like the painting less.”

“Don’t let my interpretation spoil your enjoyment,” Sam said with a laugh. “You could also say that he tries to show you only the best, most beautiful parts of the image, removing the undesirable.”

“Isn’t that just a nicer way of saying the same thing—that the artist ruthlessly controls his subject matter?” Peter crossed to Sam and handed him the small espresso cup and saucer.

“Right,” Sam agreed. “But it is a nicer way. And I would argue that understanding that crucial duality is important. That same desire to control what the viewer sees is neither inherently positive nor negative, but completely contextual.”

“In art?” Peter crossed his arms and leaned back against the table, gazing with new eyes on the painting.

“In everything. As reporters, you and I seek to discover and publicize the truth, which we find noble, but I’m sure at least one of your subjects had cursed you to hell for spilling some secret.”

“A couple of them have even tried to send me there personally.” Peter said this offhandedly but still felt rattled by the times—several times—that a fellow human had tried to kill him for uncovering an ugly truth.

“An inquisitive nature itself can be brilliant or inappropriate, depending on the circumstance.” Sam finished off his espresso in one gulp. “The classic double-edged sword, this artist. You don’t mind if I snap a couple of pics of this one? Since it’s already been displayed?”

“Be my guest,” Peter said.

He returned to the kitchen to get another coffee while Sam turned this way and that, trying to photograph parts of the painting.

“These older de Kamps are so different from his final works. Don’t you find?” Sam asked over his shoulder.

“Honestly, I haven’t done a whole-career survey,” Peter said. Out of the corner of his eye he saw motion.

Nick had emerged from his studio and stood in the hallway, rubbing his shoulder and staring at the back of Sam’s head. Even Nick’s perennial shoddy outfit of baggy jeans and unraveling sweater could not diminish the man’s attractiveness. He stood, tall and broad as a hockey defenseman, full of muscle and aggressive suspicion.

That was unlike him—the suspicion. Normally, Nick took Nordic blond aloofness to the next level of detachment.

Before Peter could greet Nick, or introduce their guest, Sam said, “Well, it seems to me that de Kamp had what one might call a late spring. In the last year of his life he broke from years of formal cubism and started painting the most amazing figurals—painting of the human form.”

Peter glanced to Nick, whose expression had deepened to a profound scowl.

Unbeknownst of the storm brewing behind him, Sam continued, “These nudes were so vital and potent that one simply has to acknowledge how much he must have been influenced by his protégé.” Sam glanced up, finally seeing Nick across the room. “And speak of the devil. I was just admiring your work.” He gestured toward the massive painting Peter had prevented him from photographing earlier.

“Get out,” Nick said, by way of greeting. “Now.”

“What? Wait, Nick. This is Sam. I told him he could photograph Walter’s painting.”

Ignoring Peter’s protests, Nick stalked toward Sam, who held up his hands in immediate surrender, phone clutched hard in his left fist. “I think there must have been some kind of mistake.”

“No mistake.” Nick turned to Peter. “Except you letting him in the door.”

Copyright © Nicole Kimberling


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