I’d only been out of prison for a short while and times were hard, not least because I didn’t have any regular work. I’d said goodbye to my business in London; there didn’t seem a lot of point in hanging on to it while I served my sentence and it wasn’t as if people were going to come rushing to buy from an antique and art dealer who’d been convicted of selling faked paintings. Luckily, a friend took the business off my hands for a price that was fair in the circumstances, by which I mean that he didn’t try to rip me off as much as other people might have done.
Equally luckily, all this happened before they changed the law to allow the police to seize the ill-gotten proceeds of crime, so I had a bit of money hidden away. But, all in all, there wasn’t a vast amount and it wasn’t going to last, so when the phone rang and an interesting proposition was put to me, I really couldn’t afford to ignore it. And, as it turned out, I’m remarkably glad I didn’t.
But before I tell you about that, maybe I ought to explain how I came to be in this situation. The fact is that I’d trained as a painter but I’d ended up hating the art world – dishonest artists, greedy dealers, foolish buyers, ignorant critics, the whole bloody lot of them. As far as I was concerned, they were all parasites. I certainly had no interest in modern art – putting a coil of barbed wire in a gallery or a few gaudy-coloured shapes daubed on a canvas does not make a work of art – but there was little money in traditional painting.
I’d made a decent-enough living from my antiques business and from cleaning and restoring old paintings, something at which I became very skilled, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I wanted to paint, like my boyhood heroes – Turner, Constable, Degas, Matisse, Modigliani, Palmer and more. I learned about the techniques and materials that artists had used down the ages and I experimented with them to produce similar effects in my own work.
The crunch came when I was in a gallery one day and overheard one particularly obnoxious buyer who was clearly out to impress his lady friend with his artistic knowledge, despite the fact that he was completely ignorant of anything but money. I got home, set up my easel, and, within a few days, I had produced a passable imitation of a well-known artist’s work. It wouldn’t have passed scrutiny by an expert but it showed the possibilities. The obnoxious buyer would certainly have fallen for it.
Over the next few weeks I tried again, but this time more patiently, putting a lot more care into the work, getting everything absolutely right. My aim was not to copy an existing painting but to produce one that looked as though a long-dead famous artist might have painted it.
I was careful never to suggest that the painting was by the famous artist himself; if anyone asked, I would simply wonder if it might have been done by one of his pupils or a copyist. The important thing was not to be greedy. Claim that you’ve found a lost Old Master and you’ll have every expert in the world crawling over it with a fine toothcomb. That would be asking for trouble.
I was banking, of course, on the fact that someone would think it was far too good to be by a mere pupil; they would pay a couple of thousand to get it, in the hope that might just turn out to be the real thing, worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions. And, if the worst came to the worst, they’d got a decent picture to hang over the mantelpiece. There are so many people out there who cannot resist what they’ve convinced themselves is a bargain, especially if they think they’re putting one over on the seller. And, as the seller, you know you’ve got a sucker as soon as you see the greed in their eyes. They just can’t hide it.
I’m sure you don’t expect me to reveal the ways in which I sold my paintings but, because they had to be inventive, I had to vary them and that was the problem. One day, against my better judgement, I put a painting in an auction – I needed the money a bit too urgently. I played down its origins, of course, but the auctioneer was convinced that it was just too good, too perfect. He was sure he was either sitting on something worth millions or a very clever fake and, rather than risk his reputation, he decided to get to the bottom of it. And the bottom of it wasn’t pretty.
Two gentlemen arrived at my shop and asked if I wouldn’t mind accompanying them to the police station to help with some inquiries they were making.
The judge was merciless. I had threatened to undermine the entire basis of the art market and he sent me down for five years. The irony is that my fakes are now worth a fair amount in their own right and, if someone had kept one, they’d have made a good return on their investment. And more recently there have even been a few cases of people faking my fakes! I suppose that’s a compliment of sorts.
Back then, though – when I came out of prison – I needed to earn a living as best I could, so I was definitely intrigued when the bahis firmaları phone rang one day and a terribly posh male voice asked me if I might be interested in a proposition. I played it casually at first, though, fearful that I was being set up. The newspapers love to do that sort of thing; I could see the headlines – “Convicted faker back at old tricks”.
The caller identified himself as Sir Robert Haselton-Price, the seventh baronet and head of the family that owned Sittaford Hall, a stately home in Devon that was somewhat past its best. The family had once been wealthy and powerful but, over the years, their circumstances had become more reduced, which is not to say that they were poor by any means. I’m sure you’ve all heard the old joke about the posh family that had fallen on hard times: the daddy was poor, the mummy was poor, the children were poor, and even the butler was poor. The Haselton-Prices were like that.
Like most big country houses, Sittaford’s walls were adorned with portraits of long-dead family ancestors but there were none of the current generation. Sir Robert was blunt. ‘I don’t want one of those dreadful modern things even I could afford it. I want something traditional and I’m told you’re the man to talk to. A dab hand at cleaning up old pictures, too, and from what I hear you could do with the work. Interested?’
I knew exactly what he meant. He’d guessed how badly I needed the work and he wouldn’t have to pay me very much. However, beggars can’t be choosers, as they say, and the upshot was that I drove down to Devon a day or two later to spend a few days finding out exactly what the job would entail.
I arrived at Sittaford Hall late in the afternoon. Sir Robert had suggested that I stay at the Hall and the maid who answered the door showed me up to my room. She said that when I’d had a chance to freshen up after my journey, I should make my way down to the Library, where I would find Sir Robert.
When I entered the room Sir Robert greeted me warmly and thanked me for coming. We sat in a couple of armchairs and talked over his requirements. First and foremost was the grand family group – himself, his wife and their two daughters – plus some individual portraits. Then, in a conspiratorial whisper, he revealed that he had a mistress living in the nearby town and he rather fancied having a painting of her. It would have to be hidden in his private study at the Hall but it would, and he hoped I would agree to quite a revealing pose.
‘Of course, of course’, I answered, hoping very much that the lady in question would pose for me in person and that I wouldn’t just be given a photograph or, worse still, be asked to put her face on a fictitious body.
Sir Robert then took me upstairs to show me a room in a tower that he hoped would prove suitable as a studio. It was, indeed, ideal, with windows on the south, east and west sides to provide plenty of natural light, but it badly needed a good clean. He arranged for one of the maids to work on it the next day. With everything agreed, Sir Robert announced that pre-dinner drinks would be at seven and he left me to unpack my things from the car.
Promptly at seven o’clock I made my way downstairs to the drawing room. Standing next to Sir Robert was one of the loveliest women imaginable – medium height, elegant, slim and with brunette hair cascading over her shoulders and the most wonderful pair of brown eyes I have ever seen.
‘My wife, Lady Haselton-Price, Cassandra.’
‘Cassie’, she corrected him, ‘and my husband is Bob’, she added, giving him a stern look.
After a wonderful meal we retired to the drawing room. Cassie poured coffee and Bob asked if I would like a drink to go with it. I insisted on a small one; it had been a long day and I was feeling weary enough without the aid of too much alcohol. He poured himself a large glass of brandy and placed it on the table by his chair and left the decanter beside it too.
The evening passed splendidly. Bob and Cassie were the perfect hosts, taking a great interest in my work and even more interest in my experiences of my trial and my time in prison. I don’t suppose they had a jailbird to stay very often. They, in turn, told me about their two daughters, Amanda, the eldest, and Rachel. Rachel had just turned eighteen and was in her first term at university. Amanda was in her mid-twenties; she was married and lived with her husband Richard in a house on the estate. Bob made absolutely no effort to hide his disdain for Richard and I suspected that Carrie was disappointed in him too but she was less inclined to show it. As I was later to discover, Richard initially seemed to be full of promise but, when it really came down to it, the promise turned out to be so much hot air.
We talked about the paintings that Bob and Cassie wanted from me. The family group might be a problem; it was a question of getting everyone together. I could, of course, paint the background and add each person separately but I feared some kaçak iddaa loss of the family dynamic if I did that.
As the evening went on, I noticed that Bob refilled his glass at frequent intervals and his voice became increasingly slurred. By 10 o’clock, with the decanter almost drained, he was extremely drunk and incapable of coherent conversation.
I suggested that maybe it was time for me to go to bed but as I stood to leave Bob insisted that I stay a while longer. His tone was no longer that of the genial host but veering towards that of a bully who was determined to have his own way. Cassie looked at me apologetically. Her beautiful brown eyes that had been sparkling at the beginning of the evening were now beginning to show signs of distress. It was obvious that Bob’s drunkenness was a frequent occurrence that she had to put up with.
‘I’m sorry, Bob does tend to enjoy a little too much to drink in the evenings.’ she said quietly, lowering her eyes, but not quietly enough.
‘Sorry, what do you mean sorry?’ Bob rasped in a tone that was unmistakably bitter. ‘Are you complaining again, woman?’ He turned towards me, his eyes desperately trying to get me into focus. ‘Do you see what I have to put up with,’ he slurred, ‘just because I like a drink after dinner. Isn’t a man allowed to drink in his own home these days?’
He struggled to get up out of his chair and almost immediately began to topple over as his legs buckled beneath him. ‘Damned carpet, always tripping over it. Must get it fixed. Give me a hand will you.’
I moved forward and took hold of his arm to steady him. I looked towards Cassie. She nodded, as if to confirm my actions, and then smiled back at me in what I took to be a token of thanks. Then she raised her eyes towards the ceiling in silent suggestion that I might help her husband upstairs to his room. I guided him towards the foot of the staircase.
‘Good man, good man,’ he kept on muttering as I did so.
Getting him up the stairs was no easy matter. I held his arm with one hand to steady him while I placed the other in the centre of his back and propelled him upwards. Cassie followed at a discreet distance behind, not wanting to agitate her husband further. As we reached the top of the stairs she passed by us and continued along the corridor until she reached what I took to be his bedroom. She opened the door and led the way in, quickly turning down his bedclothes before we reached the bed.
I sat Bob on the edge of his bed, keeping him upright while Cassie removed his jacket and tie before unbuttoning his shirt and slipping it off him. I then laid him flat on the bed. Cassie took off his shoes and socks and then unzipped his trousers. Between us we managed to slide them off him. I rolled him over into the recovery position and then Cassie pulled the bedclothes up over him. I left the room and she followed, turning out the light and closing the door behind her.
We went back down the stairs and returned to the drawing room. Cassie picked up Bob’s glass and the decanter and placed them both on a silver tray on top of the sideboard, as if to remove the evidence of what had just taken place.
She turned to me, with the faintest hint of moistening in her eyes.
‘I am so sorry for that,’ she said. ‘It was such a lovely evening. He always has to spoil things. But thank you for your help. Normally I just have to leave him there and go to bed. The staff go home after dinner and I can’t get him up the stairs on my own. If I try, he gets so angry.’
I murmured a ‘you’re welcome’ in reply, before adding ‘I really should be getting to bed myself, it’s been a very long day.’
She nodded but moved closer to me.
I put my hands on her upper arms and held her gently as I kissed her on each cheek in turn but, as I went to pull away, she turned her face towards me and planted her lips on mine. Her hands took hold of my waist and pulled me against her and I put my hands round her back, tightening our embrace. I could feel her warm body pressed against me and I felt my cock stirring. I was sure she must be able to feel it too.
Our mouths locked and our tongues met. I put one hand behind her neck, drawing her face tightly to mine. With the other I brushed lightly across her breast. I felt her hardening nipple through the material of her dress, her small breasts clearly needing no bra. Sensing no resistance to this move, I cupped her breast in my hand, holding it firmly, caressing her nipple between my thumb and my palm.
Cassie broke away from our kiss. Her lips moved close to my ear. ‘Do you really want to sleep alone?’ she said softly. ‘It’s been so long. My husband hasn’t fucked me for many months. I want to be fucked, I want you to fuck me, I need you to fuck me.’ Coming from one who was, until just a few minutes before, the very model of refined elegance, the word and its repetition came as a surprise. It must have shown. ‘I don’t make a habit of this,’ she whispered urgently. ‘I’ve never kaçak bahis felt like this before.’
I thought about taking her up to bed but it was a case of seizing the moment. With the hand that had been on her neck, I began to feel for the zip on the back of her dress. I breathed a small sigh of relief when it offered no resistance to being undone. The last thing I needed just then was a recalcitrant zip. The dress fell forward from her shoulders. We moved apart so that it could fall to the floor and she could step out of it. I picked it up and placed it over the back of an armchair. She stood there in front of me in lacy panties, hold ups, and shoes. She crossed her arms over her breasts in slight embarrassment.
‘I’m not used to having a man look at me’, she offered in explanation.
‘You’re very beautiful. You’ve no need to be embarrassed.’
I took her arms and put them down by her sides, before reaching out to each of her breasts, touching the nipples, taking them between my forefingers and thumbs. They were hard, aroused. She moaned as I tugged gently on them, then her moans turned into groans. I bent down and took one of her nipples in my mouth. I grasped it between my teeth and stretched it as I flicked my tongue over its tip. I felt her shudder. Then I moved my mouth to the other.
‘Oh god, you’re making me so wet,’ she breathed. ‘You don’t know how long it is since I’ve felt like this.’
I slipped my hand inside her panties. She was unshaved but neatly trimmed. I cupped her mound in my palm and, as I let my fingers trail across her labia, I could feel the wetness seeping out. Her lips were parted, swollen with desire. My longest finger moved between them, separating and opening them, and there was no resistance as it slid inside the warm wetness of her vagina. My thumb, meanwhile, sought out and began teasing the swollen bud of her clit.
Her forehead rested on my chest as she enjoyed the sensations of my probing hand and her moans became almost continuous. I removed my hand and took hold of the sides of her panties, sliding them down her legs. Kneeling before her I slipped off each shoe in turn to allow me to ease the panties over her feet. I stayed on my knees for a few moments to savour the sex that was only inches in front of my eyes. Then I stood and held her at arms’ length before me, taking in all of her near-naked beauty.
I took her gently by the arm and led her over to one of the armchairs. I sat her back in it and then, taking each of her legs in turn, draped them over its arms, leaving her totally open and exposed to my gaze. Her outer labia were widely parted; between them, her inner labia were small and, with her legs spread so far apart, that left the opening to her vagina gaping open and the clit just above it very visible.
I knelt in front of her, looking at her, studying her closely, and then, with her watching my every movement, I stood up and began to undress. I saw her breathing intensify with her growing passion. She trailed her fingers across her hole and plunged them in – they came out again coated in her wetness and she put them to her mouth, licking off the juices with her tongue. That was such an erotic sight. She did it again, but this time she offered her fingers up to my mouth and I lapped up the taste of her.
My shirt was already discarded. I slipped off my shoes and socks and then unfastened my trouser belt and lowered the zip. My trousers fell to the floor of their own accord and I stepped out of them. Cassie’s eyes were now focussed on my trunks which, even if I say it myself, had quite an impressive bulge in the front. I slid the trunks down my legs and my cock popped free, standing proud and erect.
‘God, it’s been ages since I’ve seen one of those’, Cassie said. She reached out with her hand to grasp it and draw it towards her. She leaned forward and I stood in front of her. She looked closely at me and then opened her mouth and lowered it over the head of my cock. She used her lips and tongue to explore and caress my glans with an unexpected degree of expertise given her recent lack of experience. In fact, I very soon had to stop her for fear that I was going to cum in her mouth.
Instead, I knelt before her and applied my mouth to her sex. I licked her all the way up from her perineum to her clit, playing with her inner labia on the way and probing the entrance to her vagina with my tongue. Then I began to stimulate her clit head with my tongue and teased the shaft between my fingers.
Cassie began to gasp with pleasure as my tongue and fingers continued their work. I’d rested my forearms on the arms of the chair and she grabbed hold of them, forcing herself back in the chair as if trying to escape from the mounting sensations. Then, suddenly, she threw her head back and her back arched. The gasps became groans, punctuated with sharp exhalations of breath. She certainly wasn’t loud; whether that was normal for her or whether she was simply conscious of her husband being upstairs, I don’t know. She fell back into the armchair while she recovered her breath. She pushed me away from her sex and cupped it with her own hand, pressing down for a few moments, as if to relieve the acute sensations.