Authors: Hazel Osmond
Tags: #Fiction, #General
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by
Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
Copyright © 2013 Hazel Osmond
The moral right of Hazel Osmond to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
PB ISBN 978 1 78087 373 2
EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78087 374 9
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
You can find this and many other great books at:
has been an advertising copywriter for many years. In 2008, she won the
Woman & Home
short-story competition sponsored by Costa. In 2012,
Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe?
was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) Romantic Comedy award. While she is overjoyed to be a writer, a tiny part of her would like to have been an artist in Paris during the nineteenth century. Without the grinding poverty and syphilis, obviously. She is currently writing her fourth novel.
Also by Hazel Osmond
Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe?
The First Time I Saw Your Face
In memory of my mother, Josie Derrick (1926–2012)
Right at that moment, Grace could have done with the United Nations dropping in and working their magic. The Americans were getting restless and the smiles of the Japanese were growing more and more mask-like. True, the New Zealand couple looked pretty laid back as they studied the statue of the Greek god who obviously favoured doing his hunting naked, but the way that Monsieur Laurent, the French guy, was gripping the gallery guide suggested he was having a hard time with his
At the ticket desk, Lilly gave her an uncharacteristically sympathetic smile, although Grace knew that if her little Tower of Babel continued to clutter up the entrance hall much longer, she’d suggest that Grace take everyone outside to wait.
She glanced at the gallery clock and saw the minute hand jump another segment to the right. It was heading for the powdered wig, now faded and crazed with age, of a young man who had been painted on the clock’s face.
He was loitering against a backdrop of straggly trees and Grace had always suspected that he was waiting for some rose-lipped country wench to trip into view for some al fresco seduction. But his intentions today were of minor concern. The more pressing problem was that when the minute hand reached that wig, it would be exactly ten minutes since her tour should have started. By now they ought to be exploring the ‘Leading Lights of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Movement’ in one of the Paddwick Gallery’s wood-panelled rooms upstairs.
Grace heard the large double doors open. She had given up all expectation of anyone from the United Nations appearing, but was still hopeful that it would be the tardy Tuscelli family – the reason they were all loitering about on the flagstones. It was an elderly woman walking with the aid of a stick. She made a slow progress towards the ticket desk and then an even slower ascent of the oval stone staircase that spiralled up through the centre of the building, carrying people from the Reformation to the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. The minute hand moved to poke the powdered wig and Grace knew, without having to look, that the Americans, Evangeline and Scott Baldridge, would be on the move too.
Lodged at the ‘intensely demanding’ end of the client spectrum, the Baldridges treated any glitch or deviation
in the advertised sched-uuu-le (said with a deep Texan drawl) in the same manner: Mrs Baldridge would get one side of Grace, Mr Baldridge the other, and in a whinging pincer movement they would complain fulsomely about the tour, the company, the other people in the group and the UK in general. Mrs Baldridge had a voice like a buzz saw in a biscuit tin and Mr Baldridge a tendency to express opinions that other people would not even dare to think, and so it was with much unease that Grace turned to face them.
‘Late,’ Mr Baldridge pronounced, pointing towards the clock before bringing his hand down to rest on his hip, or where his hip must have been when he was younger and several stone lighter. ‘Well, ahh saw it comin’, of course. Always the same with them Eye-ties.’
‘Yup,’ the buzz saw agreed, tilting her head towards her husband.
Racial stereotyping did not sit well with Grace. After nearly four years of gallery tours with Picture London, she had to concede that there
certain characteristics you could loosely assign to particular nationalities, but anything more was an insulting straitjacket. In her experience, people were as individual as you allowed them to be and the Tuscellis were unfailingly punctual. She would wait a few more minutes and then try Signor Tuscelli’s mobile.
But how to stop the Baldridge duo saying something even more inflammatory in the meantime? Grace sensed tension already building – most of the members of this particular tour had met on a previous trip around the National Portrait Gallery, during which allegiances had been formed and dislikes taken. The Baldridges were definitely not going to be asked to swap addresses with anyone. The moue on Monsieur Laurent’s face suggested he was bracing himself to defend his own nation should Mr Baldridge tire of insulting the Italians and move sharply northwest towards France.
Grace saw that Mr Baldridge was now going for the double-hand-on-hip approach. ‘Ahh do hope,’ he said, ‘that if this delay means less of a tour, wheel be gettin’ a refund.’
Mrs Baldridge’s nod made the creased wattle of her neck wobble.
‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Grace said in best head girl mode, ‘we’ll simply tack the lost time on at the end …’ As she saw the next objection forming in Mr Baldridge’s skull, she added, ‘But before we get into that, what about last night, hmm, Mr Baldridge? Magnificent, magnificent performance!’
Mr Baldridge looked as if he had been caught doing something illicit. Over at the ticket desk Lilly tilted her
head in an attempt to eavesdrop, making her large earrings wobble.
‘Ma’am?’ Mr Baldridge’s confusion was underlined by his failure to close his mouth once the question had been asked. There was a nervous shift of his eyes towards his wife who, unable to mirror her husband’s expression, merely assumed the appearance of somebody who had been slapped in the face with a wet haddock.
‘I’m talking about the baseball, Mr Baldridge,’ Grace explained. ‘The Rangers. Good win over the Rays.’
‘Well, yeah … yeah, they did good … did you … do you?’ Mr Baldridge was a small truck that had suddenly stalled.
‘I take an interest.’ Grace gave a self-deprecating laugh and forgave herself for bending the truth – to describe her knowledge of baseball as an ‘interest’ was like saying Leonardo da Vinci knew how to apply a mean undercoat. She knew a vast amount about the players, the management teams and could reel off a list of reasons why the Rangers were likely to win the World Series that year. She could also have chatted about various American football teams, athletes, TV programmes and films. In fact, with the exception of the no-go areas of politics and religion, there were few aspects of American life that she couldn’t have whipped out to plaster over a nasty moment.
As Mr Baldridge opened his mouth again, Grace sensed the need to bring in reinforcements. She smiled over at Mr Hikaranto.
‘Baseball,’ she said with a brief nod of her head instead of a bow. ‘Mr Baldridge supports the Texas Rangers. But I believe your team, the Yomiuri Giants, has also had a good year?’
Mr Hikaranto beamed in a modest way. ‘Very good team, Texas Rangers. And yes, so kind, the Giants are playing …’ He turned to his wife for help.
‘Like giants,’ she said softly, with a shy glance up at Grace.
Mr Baldridge raised his eyebrows. ‘You into baseball?’
‘Yes, thank you,’ the Japanese couple replied, in unison.
Hoping that the Baldridges might now be fully occupied, Grace turned her attention to the next potential flashpoint – Monsieur Laurent’s grip on his gallery guide was leaving indentations.
‘We don’t really play baseball in Britain,’ she said, before feeding him a line she knew would be snapped at: ‘Although perhaps we should. Might be better at that than—’
‘Football,’ he said and accompanied it with a Gallic smirk, thereby proving one of Grace’s rules governing the discussion of sport with foreign clients: you could yabber away forever about their local teams but the only national
team you should ever discuss was your own. This facilitated a psychological exchange known as ‘assuming the position of underdog in order to make visitors feel superior’.
She rewarded Monsieur Laurent with her ‘What-can-you-do-about-our-overpaid-footballers?’ expression.
‘Don’t s’pose you’ll wanna talk about rugby either?’ Mrs Macintosh, the New Zealander, said, breaking off from her close examination of the nude hunter’s buttocks.
Her husband laughed. ‘Now, love, don’t rub it in. Just ’cos they’re going through a rough patch.’ As Grace found Mr Macintosh attractive in a big, outdoorsy kind of way, she decided to forgive him and his wife with a gracious smile.
With the march of time apparently forgotten, this would have been Grace’s opportunity to slip outside and ring Signor Tuscelli’s mobile, but she was saved the effort by the arrival of the latecomers themselves, who appeared in a flurry of padded coats, spiky boots and sunglasses, the double doors slamming shut behind them. They rushed across the flagstones towards Grace, both adults talking so fast and so much over each other that it took Grace a few seconds to understand why they were late.