I waited until the class finished then approached the undiscovered maestro. I explained to him I was going to steal a priceless piece of art and, unbeknownst to the gallery, replace it with a forgery. The plan was then to sell the original artwork for a fortune on the black market. I just needed someone to paint the replica—in return fifteen per cent of the booty. Without even taking time to consider what was the offer of a lifetime, the artistic prodigy told me he had no interest in working with me. He said what I was suggesting was illegal, and then added a ruthlessly unfavourable opinion of my intelligence, using numerous cuss words which I shall not dignify with print. I regret to say I lost my cool and took a swing at the uncouth upstart. Next thing I knew I was waking up in the gravel car park outside the art studio with a thumping headache (it turned out the gifted young painter was also a gifted young Jujutsu instructor). Gathering my senses, I noticed, as if to deliberately add to my discomfort, the art studio janitor was standing over me, mop in hand, staring and smiling.
“That was a hell of a beating you took,” he said.
I rubbed my head. “Yeah, well, anyone can throw a lucky punch,” I muttered.
“Then that fella must be mighty lucky,” the janitor took pleasure in informing me, “because he punched you about twelve times.”
He reached his hand down and helped me to my feet. As I stood up I realised I had never seen this man in all the time I had been appearing at the studio. It occurred to me perhaps he was not the janitor after all, but rather just a passerby with a mop. He leaned in close. “I overheard what you said to that young fella,” he whispered. “I want in.”
“What do you mean?”
“The painting you’re going to steal—give me twenty-five per cent and I’ll give you a forgery. Come on, let’s grab a bite to eat and I’ll explain what I’ve got in mind.”
“You can paint?” I asked.
“Don’t you worry about that,” he said with a wink. “Rory Zanzibar can do anything he sets his mind to. ”
Rory Zanzibar’s confidence did not allay my scepticism. I was reluctant to join him, but I didn’t want to turn my back on a chance of success—even one as slim as this. Also, I had no friends, so I decided to go with him.
We walked a few streets away to a delightful little cafe and sat at a table outside. I ordered eggs benedict and a chai latte, while my potential accomplice had fish fingers and a “Highland Shake” (twenty-one year old Scotch whisky with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream). Our meals and drinks arrived, and I examined my beverage with an irrepressible look of disappointment. Hitherto, I had not known what a chai latte was, and had only ordered it to appear cultured. To Mr Zanzibar’s credit, he pretended not to notice. Over our meal, Rory explained to me that while he liked my scheme, he thought a few details could be improved. Firstly, rather than choosing a masterpiece and then trying to replicate it, he believed a more economical approach would be to paint a picture first, and then see which famous artwork it matched. Secondly, instead of selling the original painting on the black market, he thought we could get a better deal selling to another gallery, preferably one with an inferiority complex. Finally, he suggested that for the duration of the heist we should wear cool sunglasses. I nodded in thought, and then excused myself for an urgent but not unexpected poo (I was no stranger to eggs benedict). Upon my return I informed Rory that I thought his ideas were tops. We began work immediately.
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