Enjoy a taste of
The Ice Cream Shop Detective:
When Danny didn’t answer the door, I was annoyed. It
didn’t feel ominous at all. It was so like him. He’d practically begged me to
come to his studio, and now he was leaving me out on this dark, cold, deserted
I hesitated, then tried the door, which opened easily.
“Danny?” I called out, then again, then louder the third time.
Paintings were everywhere, on easels and stacked along
the walls. Tables covered with paints, solvents, and mediums made the small
room a maze. The piney, fruity aroma of turpentine mingled with the pungent
smell of anchovies on a discarded slice of pizza. There was something else in
the air, maybe some spoiled food. Not unusual for Danny, I thought.
Strips of frame moldings shifted as I walked, and I
winced when one hit me in the shins. A small heap of pastels and paper sat next
to a palette with blobs of paint that appeared to have been freshly squeezed,
not yet mixed to use.
“Danny?” I tried again. My voice sounded a little shaky.
Now it was beginning to feel wrong. He’d been so eager
to talk to me.
I could see books, stretched canvases, six-foot-tall
rolls of canvas waiting to be stretched. I could see brushes and buckets and
shelves and taborets crammed with god-knows-what.
The only thing I couldn’t see was Danny.
I went past a standing screen that I knew some of his
models used when they took off their clothing. It wasn’t that nude models are
shy, of course, but most don’t want to do a striptease.
And there he was. Lying on his back on the floor, his
face contorted, lips curled back, skin blue, staring blindly at the ceiling
like the old-fashioned doll my grandmother had once given me. It had sparkling
blue eyes that used to close when you laid it on its back, but eventually the
connecting bands had snapped, and the doll could only stare into space. It had
scared me. It was horrifyingly unresponsive, dead.
Now Danny was unmistakably, unblinkingly dead.
Or was he? With legs turning to jelly, I looked again.
Danny was just the kind of immature guy to play some dumb trick. For a brief
moment I told myself it was staged. A tableau. Performance art, just for me? Please let it be that?
But no, Danny wasn’t having fun tonight.
Danny would never have fun again.
Dizziness overwhelmed me. I wanted to run, but I
couldn’t. I managed to find my cell phone, but I couldn’t speak.
How could this happen? It had to be some terrible freaky accident.
My knees began to buckle and I grabbed onto a table to
keep from falling. Tubes of yellow and red paint went flying.
I turned around so I couldn’t see Danny’s horribly
transformed face. I focused on the paintings until I could feel my legs again.
I made it to the door.
Once outside, in the dry, crisp night, my shaking
hands somehow found the directory entry for the Tarrytown P.D., and I made the
A calm, deep voice answered, “Police, what’s your
emergency?” Anyone with a voice like that could handle this a lot better than
me, I was sure. I wanted him there, right away. And Nick too.
“Hurry!” My voice was barely audible. Could he hear
it? “Someone’s dead.” I gave him the address.
I walked a few feet and looked toward Main Street,
where things seemed impossibly normal. People were coming out of the hot dog
place, steam rising as they unwrapped their small packages. Distant, barely
audible voices murmured in front of the Tarrytown Theatre, punctuated by a
burst of exuberant laughter. People strolling down the street stopped to look
in store windows.
None of them knew that a young artist was lying dead
in his studio.
I wished I didn’t.
The sirens started almost immediately. Police cars
filled the tiny street from both directions, slamming to a stop in front of me.
“Where is he?” I’d
seen the young officer a few times at Bellini’s, talking to Nick. I pointed to
Danny’s door, silently instructing myself to breathe in, breathe out.
When is a Monet not a Monet?
Maybe when the colors are a little drab and
the faces are without personality. When you study masterpieces for a long time,
you learn to feel them as well as see them.
You become a danger to a forger. And you’d
better have someone like Nick Bellini in your life.
The day Nick told me something was going on had
started out like any other. I got to Main Street around 11 A.M., picked up a
hazelnut coffee at the 7-Eleven, and made my way through the light coating of
snow to my studio. We’d had one storm after another and I was getting tired of
it. Snow can be beautiful, but too much of it can strand you at home, and I’d
much rather be at my studio. I unlocked my door, picked up my mail, and
wondered how many weeks were left until spring.
I checked for messages. A routine day: just a robocall
with a new approach to scamming me out of my hard-earned money, and a student
postponing a class. As I walked towards the area in front of the windows where
my easel was set up, I breathed in the pleasant fragrances of turpentine and
linseed oil. Settling into my painting chair, I got out a fresh palette for
working on my portrait commission.
It’s never easy to earn a living as an artist,
especially a traditional one, but between teaching at my studio, writing about
art for a local news website, and acting as my own sales agent, I was squeaking
by. My current painting was of two children playing in a park on a beautiful
autumn day. It was a commission, to be a birthday gift from the children’s
father to their mother. I wished I had such a thoughtful guy in my life. Still,
anyone who’s been burned in a relationship knows that it’s a lot safer to focus
I began to squeeze my paints onto my palette. I
started with white, then yellow, then through the rest of the color wheel, in
the same order every day. I’d gotten as far as ultramarine when the phone rang.
“Hey, Lissa, how ya doin’?” It was Nick’s comfortably
rough voice, with more than a little New York in it.
Not such an ordinary day anymore. Nick had never
called me at this hour on a weekday. As a lieutenant with the Tarrytown P.D, he
was always busy, whether at the police station or out dealing with some crime
somewhere in town.
“Fine, Nick,” I said. “What’s up? Anything wrong?”
“No, no, just wondered if you’ll be at the shop
tonight. I need your take on something.”
“Uh, oh,” I said, my tone light and teasing. “Did you
buy another artist’s painting?”
He laughed. “No way. I’m sticking with you, kid,” he
said. “It’s something else…something important.”
“Okay, sure,” I said. “Around seven?”
“That works. See you tonight.” He hung up abruptly.
Nick is the kind of guy who makes it seem like life is
manageable. He can tackle problems and stay cheerful. My sister is a
“no-can-do” defeatist, and though we’re close, it drives me crazy. Nick is
refreshingly positive and capable. I’d met him when I’d come to Tarrytown not
knowing anyone, had sat down on the street, set up my easel, started painting.
He was among the many people who came along to see what I was doing.
I tried to force myself to concentrate on my painting,
but I was distracted by the call. Damn!
I’d almost ruined the little girl’s shiny hair. I took a swab, dipped it in
turpentine, and repainted the section. I had to focus. There was no time for
screwing up. This painting was on deadline.
©2014 Ronnie Gail Levine
All Rights Reserved