85. Gangsters, Drugs, Dreams – and Dogs
With the need to deal quickly with the late Lard O’Connor’s painting, before the much regretted Glaswegian gangster’s younger brother, Frankie O’Connor, travelled to Edinburgh to reclaim it, Angus had invited James Holloway to his studio to inspect the portrait of Burns.
“I’m pretty sure that this painting is what you think it is,” said James. “There’s so much evidence now. But the jardini`ere really clinches it.”
Angus had raised with James the issue of the jardini`ere which appeared in the background of the painting. He had been convinced that he had seen it somewhere before, and had wondered whether it had appeared in any other paintings of the period. James thought that it had not, but had taken the matter further and had eventually identified it as the Chinese jardini`ere belonging to Lord Monboddo, the famous eighteenth-century philosopher, linguist and lawyer.
“Here’s a recent photograph of that very jardini`ere,” said James, passing a glossy print to Angus. “You see, it’s the same in every particular.”
Angus took the photograph and held it alongside the jardini`ere in the Raeburn. There could be no doubt: the two were the same.
“So what that suggests,” James went on, “is that Raeburn painted Burns’s portrait when the poet was visiting Edinburgh. We know that he was received by Monboddo, who ran a salon in his house at 13 St. John’s Street. It was quite a salon, of course: not only Burns attended what Monboddo called his ‘learned suppers,’ but all the leading intellectual lights of the day.
“I thought,” James went on, “that if we ever found a Raeburn portrait of Burns it would have been painted at Dr. Ferguson’s house in Sciennes, but there we are. This is definitely in Monboddo’s house.”
Angus smiled in pleasure. “That makes it even more exciting,” he said. “I have a lot of time for Monboddo.”
“Of course,” said James. “He was a most remarkable man. And yet people made fun of him. The portrait of him by John Kay, for instance, depicts him against a framed picture of a group of tailed men dancing round in a circle.”
“Well, he did say that men used to have tails,” Angus pointed out.
“Didn’t Darwin have something rather similar to say?” retorted James.
Angus nodded. “Oh, I agree. He was in some respects a Darwinian before his time. But, moving on from Monboddo, we have an immediate problem on our hands.”
“This Glasgow gangster?” asked James. “Or rather, his brother?”
“Yes. We must do everything we can to stop them getting this picture. They have no right to it – they obviously stole it.”
James thought about this. “Fair enough. But in those circumstances, it will have to go to the police, won’t it?”
Angus stroked the frame of the painting lovingly. “Yes, but I can tell them, quite honestly, that it was brought in by somebody who has now disappeared and who can’t be traced, and that in these circumstances I would propose donating it to the nation if they can find no lawful owner from whom it has been stolen.”
“A very sound idea,” agreed James. “And a perfectly legal and morally correct one too. And, on behalf of the nation, I accept.”
With the broad policy agreed, James and Angus set about prising the Raeburn from its frame. Once removed, the painting seemed a somehow diminished thing, naked and vulnerable – a mere creature of canvas and wooden stretchers. But even with this, it glowed with that wonderful muted light that infused each Raeburn, and one could tell that this was from the hand of a master.
Next, Angus fetched the redundant portrait of Ramsey Dunbarton and measured it against the frame that the Raeburn had just vacated. Some adjustment would be required to Ramsey’s portrait, but nothing excessive, and it was while he was marking this with chalk on the surface of the canvas that a telephone call came through from Domenica.
James could tell that the call was an important one. “No!” exclaimed Angus down the line, his eyes widening. “Is there no end to her brass neck?” And, “She’ll be wanting to keep her distance from the actual transaction – that’s what she’ll be wanting!” followed by, “We’ll come down to Scotland Street immediately. Stay where you are, and keep calm.”
“Trouble?” asked James when Angus had replaced the receiver.
Angus rolled his eyes. “Serious trouble,” he said. “We shall have to go to Domenica’s flat without delay, James. I shall explain on our way.”
With Cyril trotting beside them, Angus and James set off on the short walk to Scotland Street. Angus gave James an account of the conversation that he had overheard in Antonia’s flat when he was returning the blue Spode teacup. “And now Domenica says that Antonia has asked her to take another delivery for her,” he said. “She claims to be going to the hairdresser again and said that there would be what she called a ‘very delicate’ delivery while she was out. Could Domenica take it for her? She’s always doing that, of course, expecting Domenica to sign for all sorts of things, but never a consignment of drugs!”
James listened to this and gave a whistle. “She’ll be wanting Domenica to do the dangerous work for her,” he said. “Receiving these things is presumably the most perilous part of the transaction. She’ll want to keep well clear of that. Has she given her money to hand over?”
“Domenica said that there’s an envelope that feels as if it’s full of money,” answered Angus.
“I find it quite despicable,” said James. “It’s bad enough that she’s involved in the whole sordid business, but to implicate an innocent neighbour is dreadful. It’s like those people who use unwitting so-called mules to do their dirty work for them.”
Angus agreed with this assessment. “We shall see what Domenica proposes,” he said. “But in my view we should immediately involve the police. They can be waiting for the delivery and they can make their arrests.”
“Yes,” said James. He paused. “And how long do you think Antonia will get for this?”
“It depends on the quantity of drugs,” said Angus. “She talked about it being cut when I heard her, but it may still be quite an amount. Five years perhaps.”
The question made Angus think. If Antonia were to be sent to prison – as looked likely – then her flat would presumably be confiscated, on the grounds that it was purchased with illicitly obtained money. That would mean that it would come onto the market, and if that happened, he might consider buying it. It would be very pleasant living next to Domenica and… and if Domenica ever thought about marrying him, he could move in with her and Cyril could be kept in the next-door flat. That would remove Domenica’s anxieties about having Cyril in the house. It was a brilliant idea, and with the arrest of Antonia imminent, it seemed like a perfectly feasible one.
He allowed himself to daydream. Cyril could have his own brass plate on his front door. Cyril Lordie, it would say, Beware of the Owner.