“Hey man,” I said. “Taking a break?”
“Oh, no,” he replied. “It’s done.”
“Yeah,” he said, getting up from the couch. “Let me show you.”
He led me into his workroom and showed me what he had produced.
“I give you… Family Picnic by the Bay,” he said with great satisfaction.
I took one look at the painting then excused myself from the room; I didn’t want Rory to see me crying. It wasn’t the beauty of the work that moved me to tears (and it was beautiful), but rather it’s horror. If that painting was his idea of a family picnic, I shuddered to think what kind of childhood he endured. After a minute or two I managed to compose myself, and re-entered the room.
“That’s an amazing painting,” I told him. “I do believe this plan of ours is going to work. Perhaps not just yet, but it will work.”
He looked pleased. What had given me such hope was that Rory’s painting was a near perfect reproduction of Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment. I had no doubt that we would get the forgery we needed, however I knew I would also have to be patient. Rory’s job relied on having every little detail correct, and in the case of his picnic painting there was a telling difference between it and Michaelangelo’s work. Whereas the Italian master had crafted his brilliant work all across a bloody great big wall in the Sistine Chapel, Rory had painted his on my gumboots. I didn’t make a big deal of the discrepancy, but simply suggested that painting on canvas might give us our best chance of success.
Over the next few weeks Rory became an art-making machine, churning out near masterpiece after near masterpiece. He painted The Scream by Edvard Munch, only the screaming man was wearing a Fedora. Then he painted The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, except in Rory’s rendition, Venus was black and throwing a Frisbee. He painted Whistler’s Mother playing a trombone, The Last Supper with a blue dingo sitting on the table, and American Gothic with a lacrosse stick instead of a pitchfork. Eventually though, he hit the target. Late one evening he emerged from his workroom, exhausted.
“How did it go today?” I asked.
“Pretty good,” he replied. “I’ve decided to paint a series of portraits.”
“Nice one,” I said. “Portraits are always in style.”
“Yeah. For these ones I’m going to paint West Indian cricketers from the eighties.”
“Well,” I said (by this time I was accustomed to Rory’s unorthodox ideas), “so long as it produces a masterpiece, I’m happy.”
“Well, we’ll see,” he said. “I’ve finished the background for this one, but that’s all I can do today—I’ve run out of blue paint. I’ll have to go get some more in the morning.” With that, Rory bid me goodnight and retired to his bedroom.
I went into the art room to have a look at his latest work in progress. When I saw it my eyes nearly popped out of my head, and I ran straight to my room to get my Vincent van Gogh book. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. For seven hours I studied every hue, every line, every square centimetre of the canvas reclining in our apartment, comparing it to the picture in my book. By six o’clock in the morning I was satisfied. We had our counterfeit masterpiece. Rory had painted The Starry Night.
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