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  • The Pickers
  • Ernest J. Finney (bio)

Scott & edwards, antiques, paintings, prints, furniture, oriental rugs, silver, porcelain, books. She stepped back a little so the receptionist could see who she was and buzz her in. auctions, estates, appraisals. It was like being admitted into a fantasy world. Anything was possible in this building. The receptionist, still on the phone, nodded her back through the second security door to Bernard’s office. She was a minute or so early for her appointment. “And what do we have today, Tracy?” She could hear the usual sneer in his voice, as if her being there at all was somehow laughable. [End Page 108]

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Caryatid, Amedeo Modigliani, The New Art Gallery Walsall

[End Page 109]

She took her time unlocking her briefcase and then arranging the five drawings, each in its archival sleeve, on his desk. Bernard was good; he didn’t lean forward: moving just his eyes, he studied each sketch in turn. He didn’t break a smile. Too stunned at what he was seeing? The expert on twentieth-century art. They had been playing at this for the last sixteen years.

It had taken all her nerve to walk into this place that first time, when she was twenty years old. She hadn’t established herself yet. No, hadn’t defined herself yet; that was more accurate. Worse, she hadn’t understood it was just another game with pages of rules that got more complicated as the years went on. That what happened between Bernard and Mrs. Scott and herself would keep changing as the risks increased, so none of them could predict the pattern of the next encounter. But with all their knowledge and experience and degrees, they were still sitting ducks. And the best part was they wouldn’t let themselves understand that.

Bernard’s office was as huge as most living rooms, one wall covered with framed degrees and awards and photos, another with shelves filled with books, porcelain, and carvings. She had not tried to imitate this decor, rich people’s decor, in her town house. What their own homes were like she couldn’t imagine.

“Tracy, I’ll have to check these out, of course.”

“Be my guest. I’ll give you until this Friday; today is Tuesday. I have an appointment to show them to someone else on Saturday. And I’ll need a receipt. That’s right. Just write on my pad here,” and she spelled the name to piss him off. “A-m-e-d-e-o M-o-d-i-g-l-i-a-n-i, five sketches. Now sign it and date it. Very good, Bernard.” She picked up her briefcase and walked out.

What a surge of strength she felt, reaching the street. She could lift their building up by one corner, given the right grip. And it wasn’t just her CDs and investments that made her feel rich, powerful. Though why was she still doing this, if not for the money? Because she was clever? For more money? She had to admit she wasn’t sure. She’d only allowed herself the challenge of engaging with Mrs. Scott half-a-dozen times. No, this was the eighth time: once every two years.


Later that morning, unsettled, she stopped by her mother’s new place. These visits were always by whim, never from a sense of duty. Her mother’s [End Page 110] current shop, one of a dozen or so through the years, was in a half-filled strip mall between a Chinese buffet and a beauty salon. Wheeled racks of clothes lined the sidewalk out front. A group of kitchen chairs, red vinyl, patched with duct tape. A trike, a plastic rocking horse. Her mother knew her customers. She’d been ashamed to be seen in any of her mother’s places when she was a kid. But she’d had no choice but to work there then.

Her mother, slim as ever, hair dyed carrot orange this time, was watching her though one of the pristine front windows: she cleaned them herself with vinegar and crumpled newspapers. The...


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pp. 108-125
Launched on MUSE
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