Corpus Christmas

Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron

Book: Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron Read Free Book Online
Authors: Margaret Maron
In the evening Marcelle and Eva produced
     a special dinner and Breul gave them most of his pocket money for wine. By midnight, the portrait was declared finished (even
     though it had taken on certain simian details as more bottles were emptied) and both artists had signed it on the back before
     making a formal presentation to the birthday boy.
    In return, Erich Jr. had risen to the occasion with a speech about Spanish-French-American friendship, in token of which he
     now gave his bicycle to Braque and his monkey to Picasso. Early the next day, with his portrait tied up in brown paper, a
     slightly queasy young American—“I think it must have been the sausages,” he wrote his parents—caught the morning train to
     Lyons, where his
wander jahr
returned to its prescribed paths.
    Except that it hadn’t quite, thought Shambley, turning to the letters written after Breul settled in Paris for what was to
     be his final six months before sailing home. He was discreet about his sorties into bohemia, and his assurances of studious
     application to conventional art and culture were probably written in response to pointed questions from home. But the catalogs
     and Montparnasse menus, not to mention the two Légers hanging four floors down in that zoo of a janitor’s room, gave ample
     evidence that the junior Breul had spent as much time among the avant-garde of Paris as in the venerable Louvre.
    Shambley returned the last letter to its envelope and blocked them between his small hands like a deck of cards. At that moment,
     Dr. Roger Shambley was a deeply happy man. All his life he’d chased those capricious goddesses, Fame and Fortune.
    Native intelligence and dogged hard work had made him a well-regarded expert in nineteenth-century American art. His first
     two books had gained him tenure; his third confirmed his reputation for good solid scholarship, which translated into speaking
     engagements, magazine articles, even an occasional spot on the
Today Show
when a feature story required an art historian’s authoritative comment. If that art historian came across the tube as acerbic
     and witty, all the better.
    Yet everyone dreams of immortality. No matter how competently and wittily written, few books survive their time if they only
     rehash previously known data; but the discoverer of new material will always be read simply because he was
first
. That’s why every scholar dreams of new finds—that Greek statue only a shovelful of dirt away, that major missing piece of
     the puzzle. Discoveries automatically turn on the grant machines and roll out appointments and promotions.
    With these letters and a description of how he found an unknown seminal work, Shambley knew he could write a monograph that
     would become a permanent appendage to the Picasso-Braque legend. Not only that, he would become a hero to everyone connected
     to the Breul House. Once it was made public that this dead-in-the-water museum contained the only documented example in the
     entire world of a Picasso-Braque collaboration, they’d have to put in a conveyor belt to keep the crowds moving.
    Which took care of fame.
    As for fortune…
    Those two Léger canvasses presented interesting possibilities, none of which involved the Breul House. Today, he had gone
     to the Museum of Modern Art and bought two Léger posters as nearly like the two on Pascal Grant’s wall in size and composition
     as he could manage. He had already stashed them in one of the basement storage rooms. In the next day or so, as soon as he
     could substitute them for the real pictures, he would announce his discovery of the Picasso-Braque collage.
    There would be such an instant uproar of excitement that even if the janitor noticed the difference between the posters and
     the authentic paintings, who would pay him any mind?
    No one. He’d be home free with two Légers of his very own. Too bad he couldn’t openly offer them for sale at, say, Sotheby’s.
     Auctions always

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