Norman Bogner The Deadliest Art (Provence)

ISBN 13: 9780312868567

The Deadliest Art (Provence)

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9780312868567: The Deadliest Art (Provence)
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Michel Danton, the brilliant investigator-hero of To Die in Provence, is back with a vengeance. Badly wounded the summer before, he is getting ready to marry Jennifer Bowen, the beautiful American art professor who saved his life. But then a girl's disfigured body washes ashore on the beach of a resort near Aix-en-Provence, and Danton finds himself forced to take charge of a harrowing investigation. From the medieval city of Bruges in Belgium through the glorious sun-dappled towns of Provence, Danton chases a depraved madman, desperate to catch him before he strikes again.

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About the Author:

Norman Bogner is the New York Times bestselling author of Seventh Avenue, Honor Thy Wife, and The Madonna Complex. He lives in Beverly Hills, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1
In the romantic delusive hope of re-creating an American version of Venice in California, Abbot Kinney, a man who had made a fortune in tobacco, turned property developer. Early into the twentieth century the tobacco baron had the misguided notion that Americans from all over would flock to his piers and pools, canals, and amusement parks. For a time he was successful, and one of his grand posthumous achievements became a bottleneck of homes listing over the waterways that still remain. This inspired nativity came to be known as the Venice Canals. That it was missing San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, gondolas, and was deficient in Titians didn’t occur to the salesmen flogging houses, or, indeed, the purchaser.
For decades amid the rotting timbers of its tract bungalows and shacks, hippies, squatters, and drug dealers—the lice of society—found enchantment. In the sixties, these forlorn dwellings, fronting onto garbage-filled waterways, flooded in winter and were blighted when drought exposed the canals’ alluvial roots and the detritus of sixty years. During the Santa Ana season, the desert winds played discordant music over the decayed wasteland: Putrefying food brought swarms of insects; occasionally, severed body parts of a human being commingled with the skeletons of pets and birds; beer cans danced against broken bottles; discarded mattresses, their rusted springs quivering like medieval beds of nails, emphasized the devil-may-care attitude of the reckless natives and their indifference.
On foggy nights, and they were plentiful, the sound of gunfire neither dismayed nor outraged the community. The houses were easy to rent and even easier to purchase for thirty or forty thousand dollars in those days. Now at the millennium, even the pint-sized quarters were hard to come by for under half a million dollars. Beach property prices and sanity were never aligned in California.
Most of the former matchstick cottages had been rebuilt, pumped up with space, and resembled the bodies of their gym-crazed owners. Wolfhounds and Bouviers frolicked with wily Siamese cats on the postage-sized lawns while ducks paraded around to the delight of children who fed them bean sprouts and seven-grain chunks of bread. The present neighborhood has a quaint exclusivity, a cachet. To say that one owns a house in the Venice Canals immediately sparks interest at cocktail parties and marks the individual as a person of means and taste.
Garrett Lee Brant hadn’t murdered anyone recently and it wasn’t on his mind. Nevertheless, he attached the leather scabbard to his calf and inserted four long pronged needles with heads he had forged so that he could grip them and thrust them into the offending party if necessary.
He and his beautiful Eve were preparing for a millennium bash, only seven hours away and there was a lull before the cadences of a New Year’s Eve party began. It presented the couple with an opportunity to count blessings and rejoice in the success they had made of their lives. It was a time of reflection for Garrett in his enchanted cottage over the canal. His beloved Eve was paying a visit to her entire wardrobe floor, one thousand square feet of it, picking and probing through the cedar-lined room of costumes in order to select her fiesta ensemble for the ball that lay ahead.
In 1993, during a property recession, with money Garrett acquired from a generous rich aunt, whom he had assisted in a suicide, he had bought a Venice teardown. His timing had been impeccable, a sortie of good fortune after years of tumultuous misery and struggle. The young fugitive of freight trains and hobo jungles became a landowner, gentry. He was one of the few to profit from the foreclosure bloodbath in Los Angeles. One man’s loss, another’s gain.
Priscella Carmela Adams—or Auntie, as she preferred to be called—was a wealthy, childless widow, a Pasadena do-gooder, an elderly art groupie enchanted by Garrett’s manqué Gauguin-like paintings.
After her mysterious death, Garrett crashed out of art school. He had a way with a pen, legal documents, a natural calligrapher whose talent might have served to illuminate the monastic Bibles of the Middle Ages. Yes, he frequently thought, he would have done well in those days in a monastery. Prissy’s family lawyer in Pasadena ignored everything, and Garrett was bequeathed seventy-five thousand dollars. He wished afterward he had added another zero.
At the School of Fine Arts, his teachers considered him a brilliant draftsman, molded by nature for a future as an art director with an elite cubbyhole on Madison Avenue. However, his life studies professor constantly wrote COPYCAT on his finest work.
When she was blithely leaving a stall in the ladies’ room, Garrett, wearing a ski mask, stabbed her with a six-inch copper electrical pin he had found on a building site. He missed the carotid and the pin nestled into muscle.
Garrett had learned Lesson Number One: Never use copper wire.
The woman recovered, and Garrett, not a suspect in the attack, quit school after the investigation ended.
As the new homeowner of a squalid house in the paradise Abbot Kinney had dreamed of, Garrett was going through his benefactor’s money quickly.
Contractors were Satan’s militia, all of them designed as liars. The subs sold badly cut coke, were constantly hungover, and often were no-shows. Garrett, then still a very slender gentleman, shoved the burly contractor, who had spiked the job, into the canal. He had chipped bits and pieces, wrecked the place, and left old ruptured machinery in front of the house.
The man came out of the water screaming, “You tried to drown me.”
Garrett improvised: He attempted to strangle this charging bull with a dog leash and got his ass royally kicked.
Lesson Number Two: Never try to strangle anyone without having been on a course of anabolic steroids and in possession of a black belt or two.
Stints in acting school and a course in theatrical makeup yielded slim pickings. Garrett found occasional missions on a few independent films and wound up painting scenery with the other grunts. With property taxes to pay and squawking sewer-service collection agencies on his case, he lucked into work on the Venice Boardwalk. He loved it. Everyone looking for fun: Sun & sex & someone with $, musicians, palmists, the future, fortunes told, astrologers, massages, religious fanatics, entertainers waiting to be discovered, panhandlers, performance artists, the homeless, cops on bikes, paddle tennis, racquetball, muscle beach weight lifters, painters, cranks, magicians, people on bikes, druggies, tattooed, pierced flesh, everyone smoking blustery grass and bonking in the swamped public restrooms.
A Career
Chomping a chili hot dog, no onions, Garrett stumbled into a tattoo parlor, where a group of desperados from a new Hell’s Angels chapter waited for their insignia to be implanted on their flesh. As a potential customer, and last in line, Garrett studied a working tattooist for a few hours, observing everything.
Always a Chatty Cathy, Garrett discussed technique with the owner. In those days, Garrett carried in his backpack a magnificent set of photographs of his work as a painter. When they were planning a show, his late Auntie had commissioned some hotshot to photograph his stuff. Garrett himself was no mean photographer and he appreciated the work of others.
The owner of the tattoo parlor tossed Garrett a black artist’s pen and the virtuoso proceeded to outline the badge of courage on a volunteer’s forehead. Garrett Lee Brant had discovered his metier. He was hired on the spot. He settled with the tax man and the goons sent out by the collection agency.
Einstein had finally found the classroom for Physics 101.
In two years, Garrett slaved the madness of hours, twenty was a day, and he’d hoarded enough money from private appointments to open his first emporium.
The Gauguin Salons
As Garrett’s business flourished, he constantly remodeled the house with pros. These new contractors grew stories like redwoods. Located in a prime section of Linnie Canal, the vista revealed the elegant humped bridge. The place had grown to something over four thousand square feet, four floors, not to mention the rooftop atelier of the artist with French doors done in a lime trim, which accented the saffron medley exterior. Yellow, yellow, yellow.
Coming into the house from the two-car garage which housed his pearl gray 1989 Aston Martin (his mechanic’s annuity) and Eve’s practical black Range Rover, the gym and sauna reminded them that body beautiful would never go out of style.
A leap up three steps unveiled hanging copper pans refracting sunlight and the spotless kitchen filled with rainbows. Since neither of them actually cooked, it had all the agencies for caterers and reheating take-out. Eve had a positive genius for defrosting and spicing with habañero sauces.
The English-character country sitting room, plump sofas, and wing chairs echoed Garrett’s bachelor-cum-old-maid period, pre-Eve. Art Deco mirrors from their antiquing forays had cast a decidedly moderne smirk on the furnishing. Eve was mirror crazy and delighted in walking around naked so that she could see herself wherever she happened to be. Garrett, on the other hand, had his demure side. His eyes caressed her.
“We’re fucking beautiful, let’s enjoy it,” she invariably said.
When they had returned from Bangkok and made a life decision to always be together, Eve had walked through the house with a quiet sneer. Then, out of the blue, in the master bathroom, she dropped her panties, climbed on the sink, lifted her skirt, and pressed the pink lips of her delicate vagina against his shaving mirror. The magnification in the enclosed room fabricated the Garden of Eden. Garrett had never seen any woman lay open the beauty of herself in this way.
“All the stuff, clothes, shit, gew-gaws, and those Buddhas you bought me in Bangkok, you can toss into the canal. I’m not living with a monk.”An inglenook held a top-of-the-line Sony entertainment center and a complex speaker system; an unobtrusive flat-screen TV kept them in touch with the disasters of daily life. The dining room, a marriage of inspirations, would have excited the appraisers of The Antique Road Show. English, Spanish, and French pieces formed a wayward boutique of taste buds.
Books were everywhere, including a massive collection of art volumes and biographies of the great artist Paul Gauguin. Paul, Garrett’s friend, mentor, and alas, his enemy were having problems. During these moments, when artists disagreed, Garrett would turn to Recherche du Temps Perdu for guidance. Proust always came up with an answer to his problems.
Eve, short-tempered, simmering with jealousy, packed her outfits in a Louis Vuitton bag to dress for the party at Heather Malone’s estate. She was very ditzy, whining, angry, and badly concealing her surrender to Garrett. She did not want to go! Heather and Garrett had been lovers until Eve’s arrival. The pleasantries between the women masked total abhorrence.
The mirrored room was filled with a wardrobe of costumes and period ensembles. The racks of clothing would not have embarrassed the buyers at Barney’s on his side of the room, nor hers at Stormy Leather.
Eve flaunted a black latex ensemble against her, seeking his approval. He raised an eyebrow.
“Garrett, you’re in a mood. I can tell.”
“Hello, who’s in a mood? Well, how long can I watch you going through aisles of hanging racks. I feel like I’m in the middle of a French Rags sale.”
“You know-all, they don’t have sales! Be patient,” Eve said, holding up a pair of black leather pants and a captivity belt. For her top, she selected an abbreviated Victorian corset. “Is this trap avant garde?”
She had been studying Berlitz French tapes for a year now so that Garrett and she could really enjoy a trip to France without him having to translate every phrase. He had been her tutor for a few days, but gave up, since he was her lover and fluent, she irascible, angry, humiliated by being slow.
“Not with blushing pink silk panties,” Garrett said to appease her. Still, he had to reassert some control rather than yield to his beauty’s whims.
“Well, that’s done. You always read me. Garrett, thanks for being so patient.” Eve’s mood, always volatile, altered. “Garrett, darling, please, please, go to Heather’s without me. I could kill that slut.”
“I know. But she’s my—our—financial salvation. When I was destitute and alone, Heather was there.”
“Spare me this sappy bullshit. I was there, too, for you.”
“Eve, don’t cry.”
They had agreed to attend Heather Malone’s millennium prom. Garrett would greet people he’d tattooed. Actually, it wasn’t work, simply a favor to Heather. In every love affair, someone loses. Eve was not about to share Garrett with anyone, certainly not Heather.
Garrett had a quiet, leisurely drink in his office. He nursed his martini to give Eve more time. When he returned to her dressing room, he was amazed that Eve was ready, and he wrapped his arms around her jeweled waist chain.
“You are incredible.”
She gave him a borderline smile. “Garrett, you don’t get it. I live to please you. I will do anything to gratify you. Now I’m looking forward to the party.”
He felt himself crumbling to her power. “Eve, Eve, I know that. But please, please, let’s be careful and if we do anything, it has to be together. Let’s not get careless tonight. My darling, our life, our relationship, comes before anything.”
Eve’s reaction to orders was comparable to a pouting teenager threatened with a grounding.
“You know where I stand,” she replied as though being accused of treason.
He was afraid that he had upset her and yielded. “I can’t help it if I’m jealous.”
“Get real.”
Absolute freedom required absolute responsibility, but they were living in a universe twisted by contradiction in which time and space might prove to be strings, illusions. If gender was relative, in their society, a matter of perception, so might the cosmos.
Garrett, in his King of the Road Aston Martin DB5, whirred through the U-bends of the canals. The weather had been fitful, moody; tonight a sulky drizzle pinged over the water and the temperature had wobbled down. The sky had the inky gray ridges of a chest X-ray. Garrett wormed over the short bridges through the misty gloaming of the purified canals and embraced the new millennium with his dream woman.
Pausing at a light on Washington Boulevard, Garrett looked over beside him: cars, belching and dirty, filled with merrymakers and stereos blaring rap and hip-hop. Eve nudged him. She had her little brown bottle out. He pulled into a strip center in the wasteland of Mar Vista. Eve sucked a mound of coke into her right nostril.
She cleared the crumbs in the mirror and licked her index finger.
He smiled at her. “It’s our world.”
“Right. Mon chéri, Garr-ette”
“The millennium dawns! Eve, please, behave.”
“Yes, I will. But I’m ready for something stormy and turbulent, something frantic tonight.”
God help him, he thought.

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