The Thunder of Nautilus

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Rebecca had sent the paintings to general delivery before flying back to New York and had thought about a game she thought she could easily play. One part of her plan had been to get the money from James transferred into an offshore account and deliver copies back to him, which Hank could make without anyone easily knowing the difference, and the second part of her plan had been to sell the originals to a wealthy, unscrupulous collector, who was willing to pay an exorbitant price for the originals. When she’d returned to New York, Hank had immediately begun work copying the paintings. Through him, she’d been introduced to the collector, who’d given her and Hank a sizable down payment and expected the paintings to be delivered in early January. Rebecca had insisted on keeping the originals at her apartment and demanded that Hank work at her flat, although the unnatural light was nowhere as good as the light in his atelier, but she’d said she wanted to keep an eye on his progress, and she needed to make sure that he’d finished the copies at least a day before she intended to contact James.

She’d planned to send James on a wild goose chase, starting by having him fl y to New York. She would then pay a cab driver to wait for him, with his name on a sign, while Hank observed from a distance, making sure the cabbie gave James a plane ticket to Jamaica. The time between arrival and departure was to be tight so Jim didn’t have a moment to spare. Hank was to take the same plane, always remaining in the background, while Rebecca, having arrived in Jamaica the day before, would meet James at the airport and give him just a quick glance at the fakes before asking him to transfer the money. She’d felt confident her plan was as neat as her conviction that nothing could possibly go wrong, and she’d waited for Hank that morning, filled with confidence and fancy ideas of a long Caribbean holiday with him.

The morning Rebecca expected Hank, he’d rung her bell repeatedly without a response, and thinking that the stupid cow was still asleep, he’d pushed every doorbell until he heard the buzz of the door unlocking, pushed it open, and let himself in. Rebecca had given him the key to her flat, but not to the building, which he thought was typical of her vacant mind, and he was thinking not for the fi rst time as he took the elevator to the third level that after he got the money for his work, he’d tell the bitch to go fuck herself.

When he entered, Rebecca was screaming from the back of the apartment. He closed the door behind him and continued to her bathroom, where he found the door locked from the outside. The moment he opened the door, Rebecca pushed him aside, staggered to the closet, and then turned back towards him. She fell into his arms and cried that the paintings were gone. He pushed her away and said unkindly, “What do you mean, gone?”

“I thought it was you, so I left the door open and this guy—I don’t know who—he came in and he hit me, threatened to kill me. He took the paintings—I had to tell him . . . he would have killed me.” Then she sobbed and held out her arms to be comforted. “Honey, he fucking hit me. Look at me—he broke my nose.” Instead of comforting her, he turned away and walked out of the bedroom to the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee, and thought about what Rebecca had just told him. Then he walked back into the living room, where she stood crying and repeating, “He would have killed me—I had to tell him. Shit, I had to tell him.”

Hank had what psychologists called a passive-aggressive personality, which meant in his case that most people thought him incapable of physical violence, but once he felt provoked— only by somebody weaker than him (always women)—he believed he had no choice but to punish them.

“You have no idea who you’re dealing with,” he said frostily. “This isn’t a game, you incompetent wannabe.” He grabbed the large ornate glass obelisk she kept on her coffee table and hit her in the forehead, saying, “There—now you had to learn the hard way.”

He did nothing to help her when she fell to the floor. Instead, he watched mesmerized at how her blood spread on the white carpet. As always after he released his anger, he felt a deep gratification, but when he looked at her staring back at him, her eyes vacant, he knew he’d gone too far this time. Panicked, he ran out of the apartment, and as he fled he saw an old woman in the doorway of the opposite flat, looking right at him. But he kept running down the stairs and out of the building back into the cold air of a wintry Manhattan morning.

He ran to the subway, which he took to the station a short distance from his atelier, where he packed a suitcase, and on the way to JFK he took out the money he’d saved and fl ed to Colombia, where a small-time drug dealer named Jake he’d once used as a middleman to sell stolen paintings gave him shelter, but not without wanting favors in return. Soon Jake had drawn Hank into his petty world of addiction, unpaid debts, and cartel involvement, which eventually led to their torture and murder. No one cared except the New York Police Department, which by then had irrefutable evidence to convict Hank as the killer. On receiving word of Hank’s demise from a cartel informant, NYPD closed the murder investigation of a blackmailer named Rebecca Noland.

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