Hands clasped behind his back, James scowls at the two over-door paintings, one each side of the great fireplace. He wishes the men from Sotheby’s would hurry up.
Memories of endless, boring Sundays are dredged up in his mind. Having to wear his best bib and tucker. Minding his Ps and Qs. The snotty butler sneering down his nose: ‘Another potato, young Master James?’
In his severe velvet smoking-jacket, his grandfather was like some latter-day Victorian. His grand house was as comforting as a mausoleum.
As a boy the paintings really freaked him. Grandfather ranted on about what man really needed was a nose for ‘fine art’. In one painting two vicious-looking guinea-pigs crouched amid the sombre fruit, slavering over shiny cherries like vampire bats.
In his dreams he’d feel them scuttling up his trouser-legs.
And in the other one an evil-faced monkey seemed to cackle behind upturned half-pomegranates, with seeds glinting like the eyes of a dead fish.
Now Grandfather can no longer pester him with questions of his future. He can turn in his grave as his grandson squanders his expensive education. No ghost can condemn the level of his gambling.
As he’d mumbled the name embossed on the picture frames into the phone, the man from Sotheby’s had almost squeaked in delight. ‘Giovan Battista Ruoppolo?’ he’d repeated. ‘Seventeenth century Neapolitan Baroque—and a pair you say?’
Now he’d have the last laugh—once the auction came up trumps, James would be home free. What were a few losses at the tables when now he’d found his true vocation? His brilliant solution to getting Nosher Jones and his henchmen off his back.
Rat tat a tat! Ah, there’s someone knocking at the door. It must be Sotheby’s, thinks James.
‘Come in gents and see the paintings—oh God, it’s Nosher and his gang. I’m done for!’