The Money Masquerade

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Chapter 13

El Cerrito Hills, California


“Where’s Jules now?” I asked.

“She’s home. She had an alibi—me. We were sipping tea in Sausalito when Sean was shot.” Anna positioned the Picasso painting she had reproduced for me against the wall. “Let’s hang this.”

Her subtle change of topic was not unnoticed.

“Sure, let me grab a hammer and nails.” I ran to the kitchen cabinet where I stored hand tools and carried the box back to Anna. “Here you go.”

Anna put a hand behind the painting to mark the spot on the wall where the wire hung, then handed me the painting and hammered in the hanger. She reached back to reclaim the painting and slipped the wire onto the hook.

“That’s perfect,” I insisted without a discerning eye.

“Hmm… no.” Another change or two to center it, Anna took a step to the side so she could see the canvas unobstructed. “That’s better.”

“It’s beautiful,” I whispered.

We stood in front of the painting, admiring how it matched the greenish tones of my guest room. The third Picasso reproduction painted by Anna; Child with Dove held special meaning for me. Not just because I love Picasso’s anti-war, pro-peace symbolism that flows throughout his artwork. There’s something more.

“This painting uplifts me. It’s so… touching.” I said. “Part of me will always remain captured by Picasso’s brush.”

Anna turned to me and met my eyes but said nothing.

“I’m sorry… you captured a private moment with Tyler and a perfect image of Picasso’s brushstrokes. This is truly an amazing reproduction, Anna.”

“I’m so happy you like it.” Anna placed a gentle hand on my shoulder.

The sun had now fully descended into the room and the painting had taken on new shadows. I could see it now in a new light. The same forceful lines blended with shrill spots of color, like Picasso’s original. A similar poetic sympathy in the way the child held the white dove, so close to the heart. Human compassion emphasized through a child’s love.

And… like Picasso’s original, one gets the impression the painter was deeply involved; wholeheartedly caught up in the child represented—only the child in this painting was mine.

My eyes became moist. It was never clear whether Picasso had painted a girl or a boy. His original was that of a child in a white dress, but with very short ginger hair.

This painting is a sketch of my Tyler, using a reference photo Anna took a decade ago at Eucalyptus Park. She captured his exact expression, his deep-set blue eyes. His young and quiet innocence.

I turned to Anna and noticed that she too, had moist eyes as she said, “I’ll always feel grateful for those playdates you pulled me into with Jared, Caryss. Those moments helped me through losing my daughters. It helped me focus on Jared, a new form of motherhood.”

Now I placed a gentle hand on Anna’s shoulder, “I see this painting as a symbol of the peace we hope my son and your grandson will enjoy in this crazy world.”

Anna painted this piece for me trailing the tragic loss of her daughters, the first to a skateboarding accident, the second to suicide. How sweet of her. Can I blame her for not wishing to discuss Sean being shot, or the mass shooting we were nearly caught in at the Golden Gate Grind?

I still sensed her hesitation to discuss the shootings. So, we shall talk about art. “What motivated you to paint several Picasso reproductions?” I asked.

“Picasso was a huge influence on the art world in Paris where I grew up, including leading École de Paris.” Anna’s French accent came back in intermittent waves.

“Isn’t that where you studied art?”

No, I went to the École des Beaux-arts. I studied Picasso in the classroom and learned to love what he stood for—and against.”

I nodded, still mesmerized by Anna’s portrait of Tyler. The likeness, reserved personality, and mood of my kid were amazing. “You show a deep understanding of my kid, Anna. Your talent reflects art from the heart.”

Anna simply smiled; an upward pull of the lips accompanied by adorable dimples. A compassionate smile.

I asked, “What materials did you use for this?”

“It’s oil on canvas, like Picasso’s original. I tried to mirror his post-impressionism style.”

“Well, you did an amazing job,” I insisted.

Anna moved closer to the painting; one hand raised in a circular motion near the top of the frame. “Thanks, although I could have gotten the bluish hues better.”

Before I could say anything more, Anna looked at me with a furrowed forehead surprising me with; “So … who do you think shot Sean?”

The unexpected question took me by surprise. “My guess is the guy who heads up In-Q-Tel— the CIA’s venture capital firm that claims, ’data is the new oil.’ He was at Sean’s party, we met him. Chris something.”

“You might be right. Julie mentioned the text messages she found on Sean’s phone were from a guy whose name began with ‘C.’” Anna grabbed a bottle of red from my wine rack. “Let’s have our own little art and wine fest,” she suggested while switching on my tiny white string lights.

I took the bottle into the kitchen and rummaged for a corkscrew then popped the cork. “Speaking of Sean’s phone, Julie showed the text messages to the cops, right?”

“Nope. She has shown no one—”

What?” I spun around quickly, nearly knocking the opened bottle of wine off the counter. “You’ve got to be kidding. What’s she waiting for?”

“I don’t know, other than she’s frightened of what they might find. She doesn’t know what Sean may have gotten himself into—”

“But it’s evidence!” I interrupted again. “She claims her deep love for Sean, but doesn’t trust him enough to help find who tried to kill him?”

Anna threw her arms up, “See Caryss. This is why I don’t want to talk about the shootings. First, you feel bad for the guy who shot up the coffee shop we had just left! Then you don’t seem to understand we don’t know if Sean is guilty of anything.”

My hands shook as I poured us each a glass of wine. Where is the Anna I’ve grown to love? The empath who forgave the boy whose car struck her daughter while riding her skateboard. That strong woman that always saw the best in people.

I turned to hand her the glass and saw the look in her eyes was much softer than her words which reminded me she’s still hurting. She always will be.

We walked into my living room and sat on the couch, sipping a superb Napa Merlot. The room’s soft blue and rose accents enveloped us as we relished the incredible panoramic view from the edge of my large window. San Francisco’s skyline closed before us, the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and the expanse of San Francisco Bay.

After taking a few deep breaths, Anna lifted her head and met my gaze. “I’m sorry to have gone off on you, I’ve been through so much…”

“Shhh.” I brought my finger to my lips. “You need not apologize for anything, My God Anna, nobody has seen tragedy like you.”

She took a sip of wine and tilted her head. “So… your guess about the CIA being involved is good, but how about this; Remember Sean nearly got shot in Inner Mongolia dealing with rare Earth’s for Silicon Valley technology. This happened what, a month ago? It could be Chinese officials—”

“Yes! I nearly forgot about that. China is the biggest rival to Silicon Valley, and lots of Chinese entrepreneurs roamed his party.”

“Ok Google play classical music,” Anna instructed my smart speaker. A Mozart symphony floated through the room.

It was so obvious Anna was taking command of assuring my home offered a relaxing venue to talk about the inevitable. On cue, I lit a couple of lavender-scented candles and placed some dark chocolates on a dish.

I took a sip of wine, savoring the smooth notes of cherry and raspberry. “Anna. Sean… I worked with him. He’s a good guy. The only thing he’s guilty of is the same thing millions of Americans are; without even knowing it. He works with ’defense’ contracts keeping our nation at war. Some leaders around the world now consider the Pentagon a terrorist organization. Sean was trying to pull out of military deals or risk losing Julie.”

“Which is why it’s difficult for her to show law enforcement his phone texts. They already thought she was nuts saying the FBI Terrorist Task Force killed her parakeet for saying too much! Imagine what they’d say if she tells them the CIA or tech-bigshots tried to kill him?”

“Well… business is a battlefield. Our militarized police should know this better than anyone,” I muttered under my breath.

Anna seemed to be half-listening as her phone pinged. “A text from Jules!” Then she bolted straight up, nearly spilling her wine. “Oh my God, she’s in the ICU. Sean’s been in a coma for days not responding to anyone—but when she took his hand and asked if he can hear her, he squeezed hers back!”

“Good news!”

“She asked him if it’s safe to show the text message to the cops, and he squeezed and held, and even smiled!”

Something told me we were soon to discover who was behind the attempted murder of Sean Coleman.

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