Case of the Stoned Client
A Hard Bitten Hugh Dunnit Mystery
Story and Art © Taral Wayne. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Note by Leem: Taral tells me, “I certanly had the accompanying pictures in mind when I wrote the piece, though "The Stoned Client" was intended to be a human affair.”
Her look was cross enough to faze even a tough guy like me. Almost. But then her face settled into her familiar inexpressiveness, as dispassionate as a stone angel over a grave.
“I’m just paying you to find Dr. Phidias’ formula. Who drinks it and whether they become the Venus de Milo of our age is my business.”
“I don’t judge my clients. I do like to understand the curves they throw me though.” I didn’t add that her curves were some of the nicest I’ve seen in a long, slinky, off the hip dress in a long while.
She started counting out fifties… “Actually… I might have use for a discreet agent to see that I… to see that a certain statue goes to a good location -- an art salon or city park – for permanent display.”
“You want to be a marble nude on a pedestal, that’s fine by me, sweetheart. You’re a superb work of art as is, but as a statue you’re going to be a knock-out.”
“Mmm-hmmm… Perhaps I should arrange an invitation for you to be at the unveiling then? I can tell you can’t wait to see if I… if the new objet d’art lives up to your expectation. I… um… won’t be seeing you myself, of course.”
“I’ll see plenty for both of us. I’ll have to. I’m sure you won’t be seeing anything, once those baby blue eyes of yours ice over with opaque white stone forever. But unless I miss my guess, that doesn’t trouble you. Does my directness?”
“Touché. No, I’m not bothered that you’ve found me out. So I want to be a famous statue in a museum, or somewhere else people can view me, uninhibitedly, from now on until Judgement Day. And then maybe occupy a pleasant path-side spot in a garden in the Hereafter for innumerable more eons as well. How does that sound to you Mr. Dunnit?”
Strangely, it sounded just right to me. “Toots, I’d be the first to say you richly deserve to be on a pedestal, figuratively speaking… or if you want to be put there as a solid piece of good cold hard marble, why not? The world can only be a better place for having you in it, whatever way you want.”
She’d finished counting out two thousand in fifties, but at this point I would have worn out both pairs of gumshoes I had in looking for the formula, even without the two grand.
“That’s settled then,” she said. “There will also be a matter of my young nieces… that is, two adolescent female sculptures in addition to my… to the principle item… that I think might best be sold quietly to private collectors.”
“I guarantee they won’t be missed by anyone. The world will inarguably be a better place with them peacefully remanded to inanimate stone forever.”
“I see no problem if you don’t. A pair of stone imps in the auction catalog will never be noticed.”
“That’s how I see it. We’ll… that is, the sculptures will be together in one place – the address on this card – at a time I’ll set once I have the formula, and… have prepared myself to use it.”
“And the darling imps in question?
“They go to their pedestals the moment I have my hands on them. Until then they don’t need to know a thing. And afterward… they still won’t know a thing.”
For the first time she smiled, and it was harder than adamantine.
“Just two anonymous works, huh?”
But first I had to find the formula. The funny thing was, I already thought I knew where it would be.
“Would the day after tomorrow be too early to unveil the… statue… and, um, its accessories?”
“That soon? Very well.” She smiled again, but this time it was dreamily human. No, more than human. Angelic. I thought again of a pale winged figure, motionless in the moonlight, and knew that cemetery marbles dwelt in delight. Soon, very soon, so would my client.
And the imps. I wouldn’t give a nickel to know what their last thoughts might be.
The White Lady
The police said it was an accident, but it was no accident. People don’t strip their clothes, pose themselves nicely, then drink a drink that turns living things to stone, and become statues by accident. It takes every intention.
She’d wanted it this way.
She’d had me find her the perverse formula of Dr. Phidias for the single purpose of being the one to drink it. I had found it, not so much for the fee (which I’d not refused mind you), but for the privilege of standing in this spot, looking now at the splendid figure, rendered so perfect in white marble.
She’d wanted to be a famous statue. Now she was a piece of stone so stunningly beautiful that its future celebrity was assured. It had cost her a little thing that she hadn’t valued as much – her life. What had been important to her was to be one with the Venus di Milo and the Mona Lisa, and belong with them to the world as an artistic treasure. Clearly she was. She was “The Lady in White” now – forever.
The two marble imps in the other room held their pouty, androgynous charm as well.
But the eye couldn’t help turning back to admire the “Lady in White”.
I envied the lucky purchaser when it went to auction. My paltry two grand would barely pay the sales tax. Besides, it deserved a better place than a corner in my dowdy office, next to a cheap desk set. It deserved no less than a place of honour at the Louvre or the British Museum.
I read later that “The Lady in White” resided permanently in Rome. For two thousand dollars I could tour Rome at least.
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