Title: The Masterminds
Author: Olivia Wildenstein
Genre: NA Mystery
Hosted by: Lady Amber's PR
THE MASTERMINDS – CHAPTER 1
2 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE SHOW
A girl who stitches quilts.
This is the first thing I learn about Ivy Redd. After skimming through her Masterpiecers application, I toss it aside because quilt making is not really art. I admire people who stitch stuff. My grandmother was one of them. Up until the day she died, she was part of a quilting club who met each week. They’d cut and sew squares of gaudy-patterned cotton with such fervor that it had seemed as though their lives would fall apart if they didn’t truss them up with their needles.
Dominic, the president and founder of the Masterpiecers School, picks up the application and thumbs through it.
“Don’t bother. It’s quilts,” I say, grabbing the next file.
He studies the picture stapled to the last page. “You are too rash in judging this girl. She has something. What do you think, Josephine?”
He hands it over to the vice-president of the school.
“Pas mal. But we only have one more slot. And I found the perfect candidat.”
“Really?” Dominic asks, leaning back against the silk upholstery of his wooden chair. It was carved by one of the school’s graduates, Christos Natter. One side is curved and smooth, while the other looks windblown, stretching irregularly toward Dominic’s bulky chestnut bookcase. “Who struck your fancy?”
Josephine flings a file onto the eighteenth-century French desk next to the industrial steel lamp. Dominic picks up the file, takes one look at it, and dumps it back on the table.
“Pourquoi pas?” Josephine asks.
Dominic flaps his hand in the air. “He’s a former soldier, not an artist.”
She folds one leg over the other and rests her hands on her bony white knee. “That is not a reason, Dom. He’s skilled. Look at that rope he wove while he was on tour.”
“Come on, Jo. It’s a rope,” Dom says.
“And this”—she nods toward Ivy Redd’s file—“is a quilt. Why does quilt trump rope?”
“Because!” I can tell from the way he looks away from Josephine that there’s more to his staunch refusal than the medium of the pieces.
“You both have a special person,” she says, “whom you did not pick on merit. I am certain Chase is a talented boy, Brook, and I am certain that Maria—actually, I’m not certain Maria has anything to offer besides her body, Dom—but I accepted. Now consent to my choice.”
Dominic reddens at the mention of his ex-girlfriend, a former beauty queen and ham-fisted artist whose claim-to-fame are crude renditions of overly made-up pageant contestants. What I heard was that he impregnated her and the only way to get rid of the baby was accepting her onto the show.
Josephine rises, and her tailored pearl-gray dress slips right into place over her skeletal body. “I will alert Mr. Kevin Martin that he has been selected. Oh, wait. That’s why we have Brook now, n’est-ce pas? To do all the menial jobs.”
I glare at her, although she’s right. That is why I’m here, to do the jobs no one else cares to do. “I’ll notify the contestants this afternoon.”
She gives me a crooked smile before stepping out of Dominic’s office.
“She hates me,” I tell Dom some time after she shuts the door.
“She hates everyone.”
“Except her fiancé.”
“I doubt she even likes him.”
As I straighten out the files of the applicants who didn’t make the cut, Dominic tut-tuts.
“The girl who sews quilts; keep her application aside. We’ll be needing it.”
I slip it out of the pile and put it on top. “Why?”
“Because.” He shifts his eyes toward his cell phone. Dominic is certain we are being listened to. “She’s a sound runner-up.” As he talks, he grabs a piece of paper embossed with his name and scribbles something.
I scratch the stubble on my cheek as I read it. When my jaw unhinges, Dominic picks up his message and shreds it into dozens of tiny pieces that he drops into his leather bin. They flutter down like confetti, settling in the dusky emptiness. I doubt anyone will collect them and glue them back together, but just in case, I crouch down, swipe some into my palm, and stick them inside my blazer pocket.
I have as much to lose as Dominic. No, that’s a lie. I have more to lose because it’s my name that’s being used, not his. Mine.
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” he says, all cheery again. “I love spring. Don’t you?”
“I’m heading out for lunch. I’ll see you tonight,” he says.
“Didn’t your father tell you? We’re having dinner all together at his house. To celebrate the sale. It went well, didn’t it?”
I make a jerky head movement that’s supposed to be a nod.
“Did it pay off the bills?” he asks.
“Not all of them.”
He pats my shoulder. “I’m sure they’ll get paid soon. I have an idea.” His fingers clamp down around my shoulder like a metal claw.
I’m starting not to like his ideas.
“I’ll tell you later.” He squeezes once, then lets go and walks out, whistling a tune that sounds like something from a Broadway show.
Clutching the pile of applications against me, I stop by my office, which is more of a glass cubicle than an office. I don’t even have screens or blinds. As I heave the folders onto my desk, I notice one of the secretaries fanning a leaflet in front of a young boy’s face. It throws me back in time. Four years to be exact. I was standing at his exact spot, overwhelmingly excited at the prospect of starting at the Masterpiecers. Four years ago, when everything was still so peachy. When my family was still rich. When my little brother didn’t despise me for having usurped “his life.”
The school has strict laws forbidding siblings from attending. Supposedly, it’s to discourage family feuds. Didn’t discourage Chase from hating my guts.
Movement behind the secretary catches my attention. Josephine stands next to her triangular-shaped desk, where a lone potted orchid holds court over an ultra-skinny computer screen and a pencil cup made of cerulean blue clay. It looks as though it was crafted by a kindergartener, when in fact it was fashioned by an alumni from this school.
Josephine sees me staring. There’s something unsettling about the way she gazes back, eyes sort of slanted. My shirt collar suddenly feels too tight so I pop the top button open. She smiles that glacial smile of hers, then gapes down at my jacket pocket. I stick my hand inside protectively, before reassuring myself that Josephine Raynoir does not have X-ray vision. I rub the pieces between the pads of my fingers, feeling the raised edges in the vellum where Dominic inked his command: Find out who Kevin Martin really is.
Josephine flicks a switch and her glass walls blur, and I am left with the shadow of her body moving about like the giant stick insect I won at a fair when I was twelve. I kept it in a murky aquarium, which I couldn’t be bothered to clean. Our housekeeper, Carmelina, was too frightened of the bug to touch the thing, so it became filthier and filthier until my mother got so sick of it, she seized the aquarium and dumped it on the curb for some other little boy, or some garbage collector, to find.
I eye my trashcan, but decide against putting anything inside. It’s lunchtime, and even though I’m not hungry, I walk out of Delancey Hall, a two-story building with glossy green ivy scuttling over the brick walls. It was named after Dominic’s favorite adviser, Robert Delancey. A few years back, when I was starting on college applications, The New York Times dedicated its entire art section to the man. It was titled The Monocled Star-Maker. My father read it out loud to us over breakfast.
“Art is Chase’s dream, Dad. Not mine,” I remember telling him, mostly to get him off my case.
Chase looked up from his big bowl of cornflakes, milk dribbling down his chin. He was fourteen then. It was the year his upper lip finally grew some fuzz.
“I wasn’t given a choice,” Dad said.
“Well I’d like a choice,” my seventeen-year-old self demanded.
“And you’ll get one,” Mom chimed in, clicking into the dining room for her usual breakfast of sliced papaya, raw oatmeal, and strong coffee. She dropped a kiss on my forehead, and then tried to peck Chase’s, but he ducked away from her. “Right, Henry? We always said we would let the kids choose.”
In the end, after two years spent at Duke University, I asked to transfer into the art school to my father’s delight. It was the same year Chase sent in his college applications. His top choice was the Masterpiecers, but I beat him to it, something he never forgave me for. Just like he never forgave me for consoling his ex after their awful breakup.
As I walk toward Riverside Drive, I spot a trashcan. I grab the slivers of paper from my pocket and drop them inside. I open a search window on my phone’s browser and type in Kevin Martin’s name. There are several pages of results. I add the words ‘retired sergeant.’
There is only one result.
Olivia Wildenstein grew up in New York City, the daughter of a French father with a great sense of humor, and a Swedish mother whom she speaks to at least three times a day. She chose Brown University to complete her undergraduate studies and earned a bachelor’s in comparative literature. After designing jewelry for a few years, Wildenstein traded in her tools for a laptop computer and a very comfortable chair. This line of work made more sense, considering her college degree.
When she’s not writing, she’s psychoanalyzing everyone she meets (Yes. Everyone), eavesdropping on conversations to gather material for her next book, baking up a storm (that she actually eats), going to the gym (because she eats), and attempting not to be late at her children’s school (like she is 4 out of 5 mornings, on good weeks).
Wildenstein lives with her husband and three children in Geneva, Switzerland, where she’s an active member of the writing community.