Jennifer Marie Kornikova put her cell phone and charger into her purse as her high heeled lizard skin boots click clacked nervously across the honed marbled floor of the Nelson Art Gallery. "Good night, Mrs. Kornikova," the guard said as he touched the bill of his cap to her as she went by. "Good evening, Mr. Sommers," Jennifer said as she forced a smile she did not feel. She was trying to hide her concern over the phone call she had just received.
The guard, Nathan Sommers, watched her as she hurried out. He always tried to seem preoccupied with his job; watching the paintings and the visitors, to make sure they kept their respectable distance from the paintings.
He watched the reddish brown haired woman as she walked by. The dark lizard skin boots stopped just below her knees. The zippers along the sides were hidden by the leather, and did not do anything to distract from the view of her incredibly long toned athletic legs which were framed between the tops of the boots and the hem of her mid-thigh mini-skirt.
He tried not to look startled as she walked by. He couldn't help but notice that the bottom button, or so, was not buttoned. Was it an accident, or was it on purpose. Sometimes when these women sit with their legs crossed all day, they might work loose. Others are fairly brazen, enjoying torturing the older men who are hesitant to react to these sights. The sight didn't actually register completely as she walked by. He only realized it after she had passed. The draft from the air-conditioning had lifted the loose ends of the hem. Either that or the breeze from the doors opening and closing had let just enough of a gust through to flit the edges up as she walked past. Whatever it was, he had a glimpse, for a millisecond, of those tanned, tapered, toned legs practically to her crotch. Just for a second. Perhaps he had been too pre-occupied with the rest of her. Her long, reddish brown hair had been meticulously combed and parted down the middle. It had been separated into two braids; one starting on each side of her head and combined at the back of her head into one French braid that continued down the back of her and stopped just above the small of her back.
Most women in their mid-forties had long since cropped their hair to much shorter lengths. Usually somewhere during or just after the birth of their first child, there are too many things to manage in life. In school, they are all preoccupied with combing their hair and looking young. Once the children come, so many other things take priority, that the hair gets cropped for practicality.
Mrs. Kornikova seemed to be somewhat of an exception. With her daughter now in high school and driving, she had more time to herself. Perhaps in defiance, she had let her hair grow out again to the length in her youth. Once a fiery redhead, age had dulled it to more of a brown. It was rare for a woman in her mid-forties and gone through childbirth and the difficulties of life to have not dented her looks. The guard watched as she walked away. Her dark grey button front dress fit like a glove; no horizontal wrinkles. The front had no lapels; the top buttons were open to about the middle of her breasts. She didn't have much cleavage. Her melon size breasts were not huge. They were about as large as one could have and not sag without a bra. Mr. Sommers watched as her breasts jiggled; two bounces per step. What a sight.
He had seen her daughter; kind of a Kendall Jenner look-alike. She was beautiful, but in many ways, not a match for her mother.
Jennifer's appearance seemed to be a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand, the wire-rimmed glasses and tight hair-pulled back hairdo seemed to fit her work as a curator. On the other hand, the snug, short dress seemed more like something one might see on a woman half her age. It wasn't really her idea. Her daughter had been teasing and nagging her to change her appearance for some time now. Her daughter had taken her shopping and teased her into wearing some of her clothes.
It had been a slow and difficult career for Jenn. She had started out as an assistant curator. The main curator had been an expert ad verifying the authenticity of paintings and their worth. She had learned a lot from him. Now that he was retiring, she was at the brink of a step up in her career.
Jenn had been very uncomfortable dressing this way, but seemed bewildered at the change in the way she was now being treated. Since most of the administrations were older men, in office meetings, they seemed to notice her more. When she offered decisions, more and more things seemed to be going her way. Now her daughter had started to get her to color her hair more; adding slightly lighter streaks of brighter red to her now slightly brown hair. Jenn herself couldn't help but realize she did look a little younger now.
Somehow, since none of this was really her idea; the shorter dresses, hair coloring and exercise, she seemed more willing to tolerate the changes. "I'm doing this to get along with my daughter." She told herself.
"What was she thinking?" the old guard wondered. He could tell her smile and curt "Good evening," was not her normal cheery self. She was clearly preoccupied with other thoughts. "These damned teenagers can be a handful; especially when they just start driving." He said to himself in an effort to rationalize her lack of cheer.
He had no way of knowing that her concerns were not about her daughter's driving. It was about the phone call she had just received, asking her to meet her "cousin," Boris. She hated the bastard, but had tried hard to hide it for many years.
She had known her husband, who was considerably older than her, since she was a child. Their families had been close. Their marriage seemed like the right thing to do. It pleased both families.
Her husband's Grand Uncle, Bernie, had died several months ago. He had been a cranky old bastard to most of the relatives, but not so much to her. Jenny had maintained a life-long interest in paintings and had managed to visit most of the famous galleries around Europe during her college years. Her major in art history had made her intrigued with her grandfather's brother and his connection to art. It was a murky history. He was rather cagy and vague about it. But they always got along. While he tended to avoid most of his relatives, he often took her as a young girl around New York; discussing paintings, their origin and importance. He took her to a number of famous and prominent homes; showing her some of the most prominent paintings in private collections.
The Kornikova family had grown up in Germany and gradually moved away. Her grandfather had moved to Denmark; then to England, than to the U.S after the war. He had married her husband's grandmother, Anna, sometime after the war. It took a number of years after the war to locate his brother. "Grandpa" Bernie, wasn't really her husband's grandfather, but he didn't seem to know much difference when he was little, so the title stuck.
Bernie had skipped around the world somewhat after the war. Although he spent many years mostly in Denmark, he had slowly moved a great deal of his paintings into a small inconspicuous apartment in New York. It was a very innocuous art gallery with very high ceilings. The front 20'-0" or so, facing the street had floor to ceiling glass and displayed a number of paintings. Behind that it was mostly a double loaded corridor with many paintings stored out of sight. Above that was Bernie's loft, where he lived. He could see the outside and knew when anybody entered the Gallery. It was locked and only opened if he recognized the person ringing the bell. They couldn't see him, so any strangers usually thought the owner was out.
Most people never saw the paintings in storage.
Grandpa Bernie was a bit of a recluse. He never worked. He never invited anybody up to his home in Paris. He had some sort of a collection of artwork there too. He seemed to be able to collect items over the years. Occasionally, when money was tight, he might sell one of them. Nobody seemed to be able to track or account for what had been sold or to whom.
As a young girl, and a few times in high school, during visits to Paris, Grandpa would take Jenny around France. He would take her to the Louvre and other museums. It seemed to be their secret; he would take her to his apartment and show her a few of his paintings. There were Picasso's; Chagall's; and letters to and from Henry Matisse. As a young girl, she didn't recognize the names. As a college student, she hadn't initially put things together.
Things had changed too quickly to understand. Grandpa Bernie had died at the age of 96 from some kind of blood disease. He had died without any heirs; sort of. His will had been a surprise. He had willed his apartment (more of a condominium) and all its contents to her husband, Jonathan. He had mentioned it briefly in a letter to her. He had left everything to her husband, more for her than her husband. Jonathan knew nothing about art, but Jenn did. He knew she would understand and value the collection; which she had never really seen the full extent of.
Jennifer had gone both to the gallery in Paris and the one in Soho after Grandpa had died and gone through everything. Much of it was still crated up; hundreds of paintings. She had made lists of the names on the back of the paintings. Each painting was a separate document; with the record of who had bought and sold each one written on the back. It took Jenn a while to realize that most of them had never been sold or acquired after 1942, which was during the war. No art gallery was listed as the broker for the paintings; just the last owner.
.... There is more of this story ...