“Look you ’ere,” Donnie handed Gary a slip of paper. “I think ’e should be ’ired toot sweet.” Donnie was not at all retiring when they were home alone. “We needs people an’ this is a good guy. ’E’s a waiter at the Ritz an’ ’e brought me my dinner when we wuz there last. We talked. ’Ave Copey check ’im out.”
“Okay,” Gary hazarded. “You seem pretty sure.”
Donnie regarded Gary quietly, and then an eyebrow rose questioningly: it was the have-I-ever-steered-you-wrong eyebrow.
“Okay,” Gary concurred.
“And guess what else?” Jamie joined the discussion. “The GSM is getting married and his wife is a cook and she’s been at the summer palace for years so we’ve been eating her food all along.”
“Donnie, I was wondering,” Gary smiled. “You’ve been with us since the war. You’re a great friend and will always be welcome here; but is there some specific job that you’d like to consider your own? You know. Something to satisfy the outside world.”
“I’m thinkin’ I’d like to be yer First Chauffeur officially but the two of you’ll need some considerable tending besides just being drove about. An I wuz the first one to take pity on the two of you, so when you gets a butler you can just remind him of that.”
“Yes!” Jamie agreed.
“An I needs a proper uniform fer when I’m drivin’.”
“Well, all that’s settled, let’s go to town. We can browse a little in the stalls there are some nice things in the artists stalls every once in a while. The antique shops are always fun; we can have a nice espresso, and then dine al fresco somewhere.” Gary sparkled with inspiration.
“I’ll get the ’Isso,” Donnie said heading for the door.
The three rumbled off in Donnie’s Pride, the engine purring with the authority that had powered French fighter planes over the Western Front, and elsewhere around the world in eighteen other air forces from Argentina to Thailand.
Arriving in the little city center, they found a parking place easily as that is how it works for limousines. Two young teenagers appeared as if by magic to guard the car. As the three walked off to shop and sip espresso, Donnie commented, “I aim to ’ire them two as me assistants next week. Copey already checked ’em out.”
“Sure,” Gary said as he headed toward a sidewalk artists display. Jamie was equally agreeable as he’d spotted a small bronze statue of Antinous1 in the window of his favorite antique shop in their little town.
After dinner, as the three were strolling in the general direction of their car, Gary seemed to stiffen to attention. “My, my,” he muttered and started moving purposefully toward a sidewalk art vendor. “Would you look at that,” he pointed while moving with purpose toward a sidewalk art-vendors display.
Resting against the wrought iron railing that lined the residential side of the sidewalk was a small painting of a young man seated in a long out of date style. He had beautiful long hair with a sort of beret at a rakish angle and his clothes were flowing with an abundance of material. Gary was awestruck. Jamie was pleased with his little statue of Antinous. Donnie regarded ‘his’ men with fondness.
“Isn’t it great?” Gary asked of no one in particular.
But the vendor took it as his cue and immediately began a discourse on the mastery of light and shadow the work possessed. The deft brushwork. The serenity and poise of the subject. A mere £10. And cheap at twice that price “yer honer”.
“Looks a roight stotter2 to me,” Donnie commented with approval.
“What is it?” Jamie wondered casually.
“Whaddaya mean £10,” Gary was focused on the dealer. “Look, it ain’t even on canvas, just some old plywood. Where’d ya get it anyway? £3 and that’s bloody robbery if you ask me.”
“Well, but sir, this is a very nice piece of work. Why I’d be proud if it were me own. But I’ve no claim. Bought it on the street for more than yer offerin’ I’ll be bound. £7 and that’s a steal as well yer knows.”
And so the denigration and exaltation of the painting continued for fifteen minutes or so, much to the evident enjoyment of buyer and seller. A price of £5 was agreed upon and Donnie paid the vendor.
At home, the picture was placed across the arms of a chair in the dining room and was thoroughly lighted.
“Look, Donnie, despite your refusal to dust the chandelier, this is quite a remarkable copy, it may even be old.” Gary adjudged critically.
“Copy of what,” Donnie commented absently as he settled a tray with a pitcher of grapefruit juice and glasses on the sideboard. “And I seems to remember that Copey laughed when yer asked ’im to clean yer fookin’ chandelier.”
“Well. I think it’s a self-portrait by Raphael. Not actually by Raphael himself; but it might be an original work in the style of Raphael, but I see no name on the front or the back. It might just be a first class copy. I want to check a catalog of his work first. He was prolific.”
“Yeah and the back ain’t plywood neither,” Donnie commented. “You said it was to the dealer.”
“Just talk, Donnie, just bartering talk.
“But look here; see how the paint is cracking a bit. And see the back; this wood is not freshly cut. This picture is fairish old I think.”
“Yeah,” Jamie contributed. “We can get it framed and hang it in a guest room; or maybe in the garage.” He made kind of a ducking motion as if Gary was going to throw something; but Gary merely glared at him. Jamie laughed his musical laugh which, in the normal way, turned Gary’s glower to a smile.
“Well I’m gonna take it to town and have the King’s Dad look at it. I’ll bet he can date it for me.”
“You mean the King’s Dad-o,” with more twinkling laughter.
1 A young man raised in the province of Bithynia, he came to the attention of the Emperor Hadrian and became his lover and companion. His death in the Nile devastated Hadrian and the nature of that death remains a mystery that has remained unsolved to this day.
2 A “beauty”. Picked-up from The Dodger who got it from Sorcha.