HAVE YOU EVER HAD ONE of those conversations that feels wrong from the first sentence, but you’re not quite sure why? Your intuition is telling you “this is trouble” but you’ve nothing to back it up with? That’s how it felt when I met my newest client.
It was a Saturday evening in early spring, and I was standing in front of a huge canvas depicting a freeway interchange against a foreground of spring blossoms. Taking a sip of the surprisingly decent Cabernet, I was considering the artist’s use of light, and making mental notes about how she’d accomplished the effect.
I tried to take a step back for a better perspective, but the press of people behind me wouldn’t allow it. The din of rising and falling voices confirmed it—Yuriko Imry’s opening was a success. I was thrilled for her.
I don’t know Yuriko well, but I do know how hard she’s worked to get here, and the sacrifices she’s made. I’ve been there. Though I never quite broke through to a solo show.
“Barbara?” The voice and accompanying touch on my shoulder startled me. I turned to see Ian Wong, the polished—and well-connected—owner of the Omega Gallery. But it was the woman standing beside Ian who grabbed my attention. “Do you know Cassie Stewart?” he asked.
“We’ve never met,” I said. I knew who she was, of course.
I’d seen pictures of her at one fund-raiser or another, but grainy black dots in two dimensions don’t convey much. She’s one of those women who are elegant down to their fingertips, always immaculately groomed, not even a hair out of place.
Tonight her hair was pulled smoothly back from her face and caught in a large barrette at her nape. She was wearing something beige and ivory, that draped fluidly and gave her a regal air. Of course, perfect posture didn’t hurt, either.
I couldn’t picture her ever wearing old jeans and a sweatshirt, munching popcorn in front of the fire. On the other hand, I couldn’t picture myself at a fundraising dinner, so I guess that put us even.
“You’ll know Cassie is on the board of the Vancouver Art Gallery?” Ian was saying.
I nodded. She also collected works by new artists and has been known to make or break careers. There was a time I’d have given anything to meet her and try to interest her in my own art. It seemed all wrong that I’d meet her now, after I’d finally given up those dreams and switched careers.
“And Cassie, this is Barbara O’Grady,” he continued. “Formerly one of our promising young artists, she now runs her own investigative firm.”
I was both a little embarrassed and a little sad to hear that description.
“I’m pleased to meet you,” I said automatically and shook the cool, slim hand she held out to me.
“I’m pleased to meet you, also,” Cassie Stewart said. “Thank you, Ian.”
With a nod, he departed, leaving Cassie and I contemplating each other. It seemed she’d asked him to introduce us. Before I had a chance to wonder why, she leaned towards me.
“I’d like to hire you, Ms. O’Grady,” she said in an undertone.
Here? Now? I really hadn’t expected that. And it set off all my internal alarms.
With her money, she could easily engage one of the bigger, better-resourced firms. Plus she couldn’t have known I’d be here tonight. Attending had been a last-minute decision on my part. So why this conversation? Had someone mentioned I was a P.I. and she saw an opportunity?
She had to be desperate.
Curious now, I lowered my voice to match hers. “How can I help you?”
“First, I will need to know I can rely on your discretion.”
“In my job, that’s a given.” If I wanted to stay in business, anyway. And it shouldn’t even need saying.
“I’ve heard good things about you,” Cassie Stewart was saying. Her eyes met mine. Hers were a clear blue, and cold. “But I’m well known in Vancouver, and people love to gossip. I dislike gossip.”
I’d just bet she did. “You have my word that I’ll keep anything you tell me strictly confidential,” I said, wondering exactly what she’d heard about me. And from whom?
“As long as we understand each other,” she said with another sharp glance. “But we can’t talk here. I’ll meet you at the Moka Café, on Broadway, tomorrow at ten a.m.”
The location suited me fine, as the Mocha makes the best muffins in town. I found her abruptness grating, though, so before I agreed to the meeting I asked for details on the case.
“I need a background check done,” she said. “Beyond that, I’ll give you the details you need at our meeting.”
I should have said no, right then and there. I knew it. And from her frozen look she probably knew I knew it. But curiosity has always been my undoing. And everything about Cassie Stewart intrigued me.
Even without her almost legendary ability to spot a good artist early in their career, she seemed just too elegant for the edgy modern art I knew she collected. And she had about as much human warmth as one of the icebergs in Glacier Bay.
But as I watched the subtle changes in her face, my fingers suddenly itched for some charcoal. I wanted to catch on paper the contradiction between that fragile blonde surface and whatever emotion was seething beneath it. It would have made for a terrific portrait. Though probably not one she’d have much liked.
All of which left me really wanting to know more about the person behind that facade. And why she’d sought me out.
So I kept my tone—and my expression—scrupulously professional. “Ten is fine.”
“Good. I will see you then.” And with a sharp nod, she moved on, leaving me to continue my viewing of Yuriko’s work.
And to wonder about Cassie Stewart and whatever job she really needed done.