The Switch – A Short Story
Michael came from old money, but when he married Rita, his parents disapproved and cut him off from the family wealth. With his beautiful wife and their three children, Michael never regrets what he lost — until Rita is diagnosed with breast cancer and he doesn’t have the health insurance to cover her care.
Michael hatches a desperate plan to fund Rita’s life-saving treatments and exact revenge against his family.
The complete short story is available below.
The Switch – A Short Story
To say I was born with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth would be an understatement. More like a fourteen karat gold spoon embedded with diamonds. I came from the oldest of old money. My great-great-grandfather made his fortune in railroads. My great-grandfather started an institutional investment firm managing pension funds for large cap companies. My grandfather took over the firm when his father retired; my father took over when my grandfather died. As the only child born to my parents, my career path was preordained before I pushed my way out of my mother’s womb. Except that I veered off-course.
Not initially though. For the first part of my life, I marched along the straight and narrow path my parents had plotted out for me like an obedient soldier. I grew up with the rest of the old money families in the Hamptons, attended private schools, and entered Harvard with every intention of earning my bachelor’s degree in finance and then an MBA. After graduation, I intended to go straight into the hallowed halls of my family’s investment firm. That was my plan, which, of course, was really my parent’s plan, which they thought was God’s plan. Whoever came up with it, my destiny was written in stone.
But then I met Rita and my life changed. Rita was a bartender at one of the popular university haunts. What started as a harmless flirtation turned into a few casual dates and before I knew it, I was head over heels in love and couldn’t imagine my life without her.
And to say that Rita was from the wrong side of the tracks would also have been an understatement. Her father was a convicted drug dealer serving time in prison. Her mother had died of a drug overdose when Rita was ten. Her grandparents took her and her eight year-old brother in after their daughter’s death. No criminal history there — just a hard-working plumber and a housewife. But that blue-collar existence was as distasteful to my folks as Rita’s parent’s drug lifestyle.
When I brought Rita home to meet my mother and father during Christmas break of my sophomore year, they were as cold to her as the icicles hanging from the roof. After she left, my father sat me down for a heart-to-heart. I still remember what he said.
“Michael, there’s nothing wrong with sowing a few wild oats, but that girl is not marriage material.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“You know exactly what I mean. She’s not one of us.”
When I pushed back, he pushed harder. He thought he held all the cards — like a poker player with a royal flush. Marry her and he would disown me. He underestimated me. Choosing money over Rita was never an option. If I had to spend the rest of my life hauling trash, so be it. As long as Rita was by my side, I’d be the luckiest guy in the world.
We got married in a courthouse with Rita’s grandparents and a few friends in attendance. Just her friends — my Harvard buddies dropped me as quickly as my parents had. When I called my mother and father with the news, they hung up after informing me that my “actions would have serious consequences.” My bank account, which had been jointly held with my father, was frozen, then emptied. I moved into Rita’s apartment and started thinking about my future. For the first time in my life, I felt like a free man. In the past, I had all my parent’s resources behind me– as long as I followed their rules. After they pulled the financial plug and stopped brainwashing me, I could finally decide what I wanted to do with my life. And it wasn’t sitting behind a desk studying stocks and bonds.
I had always loved history. I could lose myself for hours studying and researching American and European history. I decided that I wanted to share that passion with high school students. I wanted to teach kids when they were on the cusp of adulthood — when they were deciding what to do with their lives. And so that became my goal: I would become a high school history teacher.
Financially, Harvard was no longer an option, but there were plenty of good public universities that were happy to accept me. Rita’s brother, Andy, had married a woman from New Jersey and had moved there to be near her family. After sharing their traumatic childhood, Rita and Andy were close. So Rita and I decided to move to New Jersey as well. Rutgers University offered me a scholarship and Rita landed another waitressing position. Between my scholarship, Rita’s salary, and my part-time paycheck, I made it through college with a double major in history and education. By the time I graduated, we had settled into the area and I was lucky enough to get a job at one of the public high schools there.
The next five years were the happiest of my life. I loved going to work every day and I loved, even more, coming home to my beautiful wife every evening. We went off birth control the day I started my job and ten months later, our first child was born — a daughter as gorgeous as my wife. One year later, we added another daughter and two years after that, a son. Our lives were complete.
Then one day, the principal called me into his office. Thanks to a recession and state budget cuts, I was laid off. Rita and I talked about relocating, but every state was going through the same situation and we had put roots down in New Jersey that neither of us wanted to yank out. Luckily, her brother came through for us and offered me a job with his painting company.
Andy painted houses to pay the bills; on the side, he painted canvasses. Although he had managed to get a couple of galleries to carry his work, the few sales he’d made were not enough to live on. But his painting business was successful enough to add me to his staff when I got laid off. My principal had assured me that I would be one of his first hires back when the economy improved so I figured I would work for my brother-in-law until then. I didn’t mind the work. It was a good crew, the hours were decent, and the pay covered all our expenses with one exception — health insurance.
I had six months of coverage after losing my teaching position, but then my policy lapsed. I checked into individual policies, but the rates were exorbitant. Rita and I talked about it and decided to take a gamble. We were both healthy. The kids were fine. The economy was starting to improve and I was pretty sure I’d have my old job back before too long.
In spite of my career setback, I was still optimistic. Life was good.
* * *
Nine months after losing my teaching position, I came home from work to find Rita sitting in the dark in the living room. “Honey, are you all right?” I asked. “Where are the kids?”
“They’re at Andy’s house.” Andy and his wife, Mary, had two little kids of their own and the cousins often had play dates together.
“That only answers my second question.” I sat down on the sofa next to her and saw the worry on her face. “Is something wrong?”
Rita stared at me for a minute before she covered her face with her hands. “Oh, Michael. I found a lump in my breast.”
I felt like someone had slugged me in the stomach. I reached for her hands and held on tight. “It might not be…anything.” I couldn’t bring myself to say the word cancer. “We won’t know until you see a doctor.”
“I know. I already called my OB/GYN. I’m going in for an appointment tomorrow. She’ll run some tests and based on the results recommend the next step.” She gently pulled her hands from mine and leaned back into the sofa cushions, crossing her arms. “Like you said, maybe it’s nothing.”
I stood up and walked around the room, turning on some lamps, but it didn’t do anything to lighten my mood. I tried not to think about the worst case scenario, but I couldn’t dismiss my fears. A life without Rita wouldn’t be worth living. I couldn’t lose her. I walked back to where she sat and reached out my hands. She took them and I pulled her up from the sofa. I held her in my arms. “We’ll get through this, sweetheart. We have each other and nothing can break that.”
The next day, I went with Rita to her doctor’s office. We were still sitting in the waiting room a half hour after the appointment time. I got up and walked to the receptionist’s desk. She was on the phone and, from what I could hear from her end of the conversation, it sounded like a personal call. I rapped on the glass and she looked up. “Hold on a sec, okay?” she said into the mouthpiece. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, our appointment was a half hour ago.”
“I’m sorry for the wait. Dr. Davies squeezed your wife in between her other appointments today. I’m sure she’ll be with you as soon as she can. It shouldn’t be much longer.”
I glared at her, but held my tongue. I knew my anger wasn’t really directed at her or the doctor or the wait. My anger was directed at the universe and yelling at a receptionist wasn’t going to do anything to alleviate it.
I went back to my seat next to Rita. I sat and stared at nothing. I didn’t realize my foot was tapping the floor until Rita put her hand on my leg and squeezed. I put my hand over hers and relaxed my leg. We sat that way for another five minutes until the nurse called us back to the examination room. Where I had been impatient to see the doctor, suddenly I didn’t want to get up. I dreaded the idea of finding out Rita was sick. She was a twenty-eight year old mother of three. I needed her; our kids needed her.
Rita stood first. She turned and looked at me. “Would you rather wait here?”
“No, of course not.” I stood and put my arm around her shoulder. As we walked toward the nurse, I felt like a death row inmate headed for the electric chair.
We followed the nurse to the examination room where she weighed Rita and took her blood pressure. We watched as she jotted a few notes and then looked at us. “Dr. Davies will be right in. You can slip off your top and bra and put this on.” She held up a paper shirt. “It opens in the front.”
Rita nodded and waited for the nurse to leave. She flashed me a brave smile before she stripped off her clothes and put on the paper shirt. She sat on the examination table and wrapped her arms tightly around her body, shivering. “God, I hate these shirts. With as cold as they keep these rooms, they ought to make these in fleece.”
It was another ten minutes before the doctor arrived, but I kept my mouth shut. Dr. Davies was going to be our ally in this situation and I didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Besides that, she had done a great job delivering our three kids.
She shook our hands and sat on a stool. She had our undivided attention. “First off, you should know that about eighty percent of lumps found prove to be benign.” She smiled at us reassuringly. “So there’s no need to panic. First I’m going to do a breast exam and you can point out to me where you feel the lump. Then we’ll do an ultrasound since that usually gives us an indication of what we’re dealing with. We’ll be able to see whether the lump is a solid mass or filled with fluid. If it’s filled with fluid, we’ll aspirate it and as long as the fluid is clear and the lump flattens out, that should take care of it.”
“And if it’s a solid mass?” I asked.
“The lump still may not be cancerous. We’ll do a biopsy to determine whether it’s benign or malignant.”
I looked at Rita. I could see the glimmer of hope in her eyes. She was the optimist in the family and eighty percent odds sounded pretty good. I, on the other hand, was the glass half empty type and even twenty percent had me scared.
It turned out I was right to be scared. When the results of the biopsy came back, they showed Rita had Stage Two cancer. With treatment, there was a seventy percent survival rate. Rita needed surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy and none of those were cheap. Without medical insurance, I needed to get my hands on some serious money. And I knew exactly where to look.
* * *
As much as it killed me to go see my parents, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I would do anything for Rita and that included groveling if I needed to. The thing was that I had a trust fund that my grandfather had set up for me. Unfortunately, the money was locked up tight until I turned thirty. I was only twenty-eight, but I knew there was a clause that gave my parents the authority to grant me access to the funds earlier with their permission. Or I figured they could just loan me the money and I would pay them back in a couple of years.
I called my parents and asked if I could see them. It felt strange to hear my mother’s voice after all this time. Her tone was formal, but at least she didn’t sound angry. I kept the call brief; I didn’t want to go into any details until I saw them in person. We set up a time to meet at their home and I felt cautiously optimistic. After all, Rita and I were married for more than five years; we had three kids. Clearly, my relationship with her was not just some kind of fling.
When I drove through the gates to my parent’s estate, I felt overwhelmed by a flood of memories. As I looked out over the manicured grounds, I remembered playing touch football with my buddies. Beyond the green grass was the blue gray ocean and I thought of countless evenings spent around a fire toasting marshmallows and sneaking beers. I rounded a bend and the house appeared — as regal and stately as ever — a brick monument to unfathomable wealth. For the first time in my life, I realized how important wealth was — how it could provide the best possible medical care for Rita that money could buy.
I parked my car and approached the front door. When I got there, I hesitated. In the old days, I would have just opened the door and gone in. But that didn’t feel right. It wasn’t my home anymore; I was a visitor and possibly not even a welcome one. I rang the doorbell and George, the houseman, answered. I was glad some things hadn’t changed; George had been with my family my entire life. He gave me a genuine smile and reached out his hand. I clasped it like a drowning man grabbing a life preserver.
“It’s good to see you, sir. Welcome home.”
“Thanks, George. It’s good to be here.” I released his hand and stepped through the doorway.
“Your parents are in the drawing room. May I bring you anything?”
“No, thanks. I’m fine. I’ll see myself in.”
My footsteps echoed on the marble floor, breaking the hushed silence around me. When I entered the drawing room and saw my parents, my heart began to race. The years of separation melted away as I gazed at the people who had raised me, who had loved me as a child. I strode across the floor, my arms extended, ready to be engulfed in a hug. But when I reached them, neither stood and my arms dropped awkwardly to my sides. I felt a chill go through my body as though I had taken a plunge into the ocean.
My father gestured to a chair. “Please sit down, Michael. Obviously, you’re here because you want something. What is it?”
I stared at him. I hadn’t expected them to roll out the red carpet, but I hadn’t expected this frosty of a reception either. I turned to my mother, thinking maybe I’d see a glimmer of support from her. But her gaze was as cold as my father’s. For a moment, I thought about turning around and marching out of the room, leaving these two heartless creatures to themselves. But then I thought of Rita. I took a deep breath and sat down. I leaned forward in the chair, my hands gripping the armrests, and began to tell them about my life with Rita, the home we’d created, our family.
I thought my parents might feel some measure of pride for what I had accomplished, but they just stared at me blankly. The first spark of emotion was when I told them about losing my job. My father shook his head and snorted. “What did you expect, Michael? You were a teacher– employed by a state government. My God. What kind of job is that for someone with your pedigree?”
My mother spoke for the first time. “Michael, you realize we know all this. We’ve kept track of you. We know what you’ve done with your life.” She paused. “Or rather, what you haven’t done with your life. Your lack of accomplishment.”
My hands curled into fists and I felt like smacking their smug, self-satisfied faces. But instead, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a photograph. “You say I haven’t accomplished anything. You’re wrong. These are my children, your grandchildren. And they’re pretty amazing.”
“Oh, Michael, really. That’s hardly an accomplishment. Anyone can reproduce.” My mother raised her eyebrow. “Obviously.” And I knew her snide remark was directed at Rita.
I stared at her. “It is an accomplishment to give your children a warm and loving home. And that’s exactly what Rita and I have done.”
“And I suppose we didn’t give you that,” my mother said. “Is that what you’re here to tell us?”
“Yes, Michael,” my father said. “Why don’t you tell us why you’re here? Although I think I can guess. You lost your job and you need money. Is that the gist of it?”
I opened my mouth, but before any words came out, my father raised his hand. “Let me make this easy for you, Michael. We’ll make a deal. Your mother and I would like to get to know our grandchildren. In exchange for visits with them, we’ll pay your monthly expenses until you get back on your feet.”
I shook my head. “That won’t do it. Rita’s sick. She has cancer.” I turned my palms up like a beggar pleading for some spare change. “I need money to pay for her treatment.”
My father exploded. “I am not willing to spend one penny of my money on that tramp you married.”
My mother cut in. “Michael, this could be the best thing to happen. You’re young. You could still marry the right woman.”
I was stunned. I felt as though my mother had tasered me. “Are you saying that you want Rita to die?”
“Yes,” my mother said. “I think that would be the best thing to happen to this family.”
* * *
When I got home that evening, Andy and Mary and their kids were at our house. Rita and Andy both began to grill me about seeing my parents, but I cut them off. “I’ll fill you in after dinner. I need some time to chill out before I can talk about it.”
The next couple of hours, we hung out, had a few beers, watched the kids play together, and sat down to a big spaghetti dinner. As I sat at the head of the table, surrounded by this big, happy group, I realized that this was my real family. Besides Rita and our kids, Andy and Mary were like the brother and sister I never had. I would do anything for them and I knew the feeling was mutual.
After eating, we sent the kids to the family room to watch a movie. We adults cleared the dishes and then sat down at the kitchen table.
“Are you ready to talk about it?” Rita asked.
Looking around the table, feeling the love and support of the people gathered there, I was ready. I told them everything that had happened at my parent’s house. I didn’t hold anything back. I knew it would hurt Rita and her brother, but I wasn’t going to lie to them. They needed to know how horrible my parents were. They needed to know that there was no way my parents would be willing to help us out.
“That’s just sick, man,” Andy said. “Your parents have all this money and they’re going to just sit back and let Rita die, allow their own grandchildren to lose their mother. So what? So you can marry some blue blood they’d approve of.” He pounded his fist on the table. “That’s totally twisted.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” I said. I turned to Rita. “I’m so sorry, honey. I had no idea how cruel my parents could be. I didn’t realize how much they hated us.”
Rita shook her head. “They don’t hate you. It’s just me they hate.”
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the same thing. You’re my wife; you’re everything to me.”
“Your parents see it differently. You even said they want to get to know their grandchildren. I guess that even though they’re my kids too, your parents can separate them from me. Apparently, they can accept them even if they can’t accept me.”
We all sat in silence, a mixture of anger and sadness and hopelessness filling the room. As I looked around the table, I knew I had to do something. I wasn’t going to sit back and let my wife die.
“I wish I could think of a way to get to my trust fund,” I said.
“Are you sure you can’t?” Andy asked.
“Yes. After my parents disowned me, I contacted an attorney. I gave him the trust fund documents to review. He told me they were unbreakable. I can’t get access to the money until I’m thirty, unless my parents give me authorization. And there’s no way that’s going to happen.”
“All right,” Andy said. “Your trust fund is locked up tight. But there’s more family money than just your trust fund. Could you get your hands on any of your parent’s other assets?”
“You mean steal from them?” Rita asked. “Michael can’t do that.”
“It’s all in the way you look at it,” Andy said. “Michael is entitled to some portion of his family’s money. That’s the whole point of a trust fund. The fact that he has to wait a couple of years to get it doesn’t mean that it’s not his. So, the way I look at it, if he were to take something now, he’s really just borrowing against his future assets.”
Everyone looked at me, waiting for my response. “I buy that argument. I’m just not sure how it helps us. I can’t think of anything I can take from my parents that wouldn’t result in my getting thrown in jail. I mean maybe I could steal the keys to their yacht or make off with their Rolls Royce, but I’m sure I’d be caught.”
“What if you weren’t?” Andy asked. “What if you took something that couldn’t be traced back to you?”
“Like what?” Rita asked.
“There’s got to be something,” Andy said. “What other assets do your parents own?”
I thought about it for a while and then it dawned on me. “They own a pretty significant art collection.”
Mary, who had been silent this whole time, finally jumped in. “Are any of the paintings valuable?”
I laughed. “Are you kidding? Some of them are worth millions. They own a couple of Renoirs, a few Monets, Picassos…”
“And where are all these paintings?” Mary asked. “Don’t tell me they’re just hanging on their walls?”
I laughed. “Well, yeah, that’s exactly where they are. You have to understand, rich people like to show off. They want their friends to see what they own. But on the other hand, it’s not like I can just waltz in there and grab one. My parent’s house is a fortress. They have a state-of-the-art security system; they have a staff of people living at the house so there’s always someone around. And frankly, the way I left things with them today, I’m not sure I could even get back inside their house.”
“Maybe you can’t get back in, but what about your kids?” Andy asked.
“I think they’re a little young to pull off an art heist,” Rita said.
“Maybe there’s another way, though,” I said. “Andy, in your art classes, did you ever try to replicate any of the masters?”
“Sure, all the time. A number of the classes I took involved studying their work and learning their techniques.”
“Do you think you could paint a forgery that would be good enough to pass for the real thing?” I asked.
Andy’s eyes lit up. “I’d sure like to try. But how do I gain access to the painting to study it?”
“That’s where the kids come in,” I said. “My parents want to see them. What if we set up visits with you taking them over there? I think my parents would understand Rita and my not wanting to see them and sending you instead. While the kids are distracting my parents, you could check out their collection, see what you think you’d have the best shot at forging.”
“That could work. I could take pictures of the painting — maybe even do some sketches while I’m there.”
“There are a few paintings in the library that I think would be suitable,” I said. “If you told my parents that you needed a quiet place to do some work while they were visiting, they’d probably put you in there. That could give you an hour or two of uninterrupted time. And we could schedule as many visits as it would take.”
“And then when I had the forgery finished, I could substitute it for the real thing,” Andy said.
“I don’t know about this,” Mary said, looking at Rita and me. “You know I love you guys, but I don’t want Andy thrown in jail.”
“No,” I said. “When the forgery’s ready, I’ll be the one to switch the paintings. That way if we get caught, I’ll be the one to take the fall.”
Rita held up her hands like a cop stopping traffic. “I think this plan is too risky. I don’t want you going to jail because of me.”
I reached out and took her hands. I drew them down to the table and held them tight. “I’m willing to take the risk. I would risk everything, even my life, to save yours.”
Rita closed her eyes and nodded. “Okay,” she whispered.
I turned to Andy and Mary. “How about you guys? Are you on board with this?”
I watched them look at each other and then, as though they had spoken telegraphically, they both nodded at the same time.
“Yeah,” Andy said. “We’re in. I’ll do whatever it takes to help my sister.”
“All right,” I said. “I’ll call my parents tomorrow and set up a schedule.”
* * *
Over the next couple of months, Andy took the kids to see my parents every week. While they visited, he studied and photographed the painting and, after he began working on the forgery, he made notes to himself about changes to make at his studio. He’d selected a Renoir to forge. He’d studied that artist in depth when he was in art school and was confident in his ability to create a forgery that could pass for the real thing.
I researched how to sell a painting on the black market and what I thought we could get for it. Thank God for the Internet. You could watch porn twenty-four hours a day, learn how to build a bomb, and as I found out, get access to people willing to buy stolen art with no questions asked.
When the forgery was finished, we were ready to make the switch. Andy took the kids for their regular visit. I showed up ten minutes later with the forgery in my own car. If I were caught, I wanted distance between Andy and me. No one would know that he’d participated in the theft.
The canvass was small — about two feet by eighteen inches. I’d taped it to the inside lining of my coat which was lying on the back seat of my car. When I arrived at my parent’s house, I removed the coat and put it on carefully. My heart was thumping as I made my way up the walk. Before I rang the doorbell, I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I was terrified of getting caught, but there was no turning back. I had to do this for Rita.
When George, the houseman, answered the door, I told him I needed to talk to my brother-in-law. He showed me to the library and then left us alone. I turned to Andy and saw the fear in his eyes. “You can leave if you want, bro. I can make the switch and then go find my parents and tell them I came to pick up my kids. You don’t have to stay here.”
“No. I told you I would help you and I will. Switching the paintings will go faster with two hands. Plus, I’m the expert, not you. The forgery has to be set into the frame perfectly. That’s every bit as important as the painting itself.”
“But if someone walks in—”
Andy held up his hand. “I’m not leaving. I’m doing this for my sister. End of discussion.”
I felt a rush of gratitude for having someone to share my burden. “All right. Then let’s do it.”
I took off my coat and hung it carefully on the back of a chair, the forgery hidden from view. I walked toward Andy who was standing next to the original, his arms outstretched, ready to remove the Renoir from the wall. I heard the click of the library door opening and spun around to see who was there. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Andy lower his arms seconds before he would have had the painting in his hands.
George walked in and I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t one of my parents. I knew I could get rid of him; that wouldn’t have been so easy if it was my mother or father.
“Excuse me, sir,” George said. “Would you like me to bring you something to eat or drink? I apologize that I didn’t ask before.”
“No. We’re fine.” I nodded toward a cabinet. “I assume my father still keeps a well-stocked bar in there.”
George smiled. “Yes, indeed. And I guess you’re old enough now to help yourself to whatever is in there.”
“I don’t think we’ll want anything, but if we do, I’ll get it myself. Thank you, though. I’ll call you if we need you.”
I watched as the houseman turned to leave. “One more thing, George. Please don’t tell my parents I’m here. I just came to talk to Andy about something, and I’m not sure they would be too excited to see me.”
“Of course, sir. I understand.” George raised his hand to his chest. “I know it’s not my place to say anything, but I’m truly sorry for how your parents have treated you.”
“Thank you for saying that. It means a lot to me.” And it did. If anyone knew all the ins and outs of my family, it was George. Having him in my corner was meaningful.
I waited until the houseman left the room and then turned to Andy. “That was close. We need to move fast.”
It took about twenty minutes for us to make the switch, and I was sweating bullets the whole time. We removed the original from the frame, replaced it with the forgery, and hung the painting back in its place. Then we carefully taped the original to my coat lining. When we were finished, I slipped my coat on immediately so that if anyone came in, the painting was hidden from view.
I grabbed Andy and gave him a hug. “Thanks for doing this for Rita.”
“Hey, she’s my sister. I’d do anything for her,” he said.
I couldn’t have asked for a better brother-in-law. “I’m going to get out of here before my parents show up.”
I opened the door and heard footsteps coming closer. I flew out of the library and walked as fast as I could down the hall, grateful I’d thought to wear rubber-soled shoes. When I rounded the corner to the foyer, I stole a quick glance back and saw a shadow at the other end of the hallway. I didn’t stop to see who it was. I got out of the house, drove away, and never looked back.
* * *
The next few months passed as a blur. After I sold the Renoir, Rita had her surgery and started her radiation and chemotherapy treatments. There were days she felt pretty miserable, but on the whole, the treatment went well.
Mary chipped in by taking care of our kids whenever Rita wasn’t up to it. And I found out how resilient my kids were. We told them that Mommy was sick, but the doctors were making her better. They seemed to accept our words and were actually on their best behavior during the whole process.
Shortly after Rita completed her treatments, the doctors ran some more tests. She was cancer-free! They’d have to monitor her closely for the next several years, but her prognosis was excellent.
A couple of days after we’d gotten the good news, I picked up the newspaper and saw an article that made the hair on my arms stand up. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was announcing an important acquisition. My parents were donating a portion of their art collection to the museum in exchange for a wing to be named in their honor. A list of the paintings included the Renoir we had forged. The donation was going to be made in one month’s time with a black-tie gala kicking off the event.
That evening, when I gathered Rita, Andy and Mary to break the news to them, there were worried looks around the table.
“Are we going to get caught?” Rita asked. “It’s one thing to fool an amateur art enthusiast; it’s another to fool the museum’s experts.”
“I think we’ll be all right,” I said. “Even if the museum discovers the forgery, nothing will link us to the fake.”
“What about your parents?” Mary asked.
“They deserve whatever happens to them. At a minimum, they’ll be humiliated. Even if the museum tries to keep it quiet, these sorts of things always get out. Someone on the board will be happy to pass along some gossip about my family. The rich love to take each other down a few pegs.”
“Could there be any legal ramifications for them?” Rita asked.
I thought about it for a minute. “There could be. My parents would take a tax write-off for a donation like this. If it could be proven that they had knowledge of the forgery, they could be charged with fraud.”
“Oh, God,” Rita said. “Maybe we should tell your parents what we did. Then they wouldn’t have to donate the forgery.”
I looked around the table. “We can’t tell my parents anything. If we did, we could go to jail and I’m not going to let that happen. Besides I’m not worried about my parents. They have the best attorneys money can buy. Even if they were guilty, they’d probably get off. But we know they’re not guilty. There’s no way anyone could prove they had prior knowledge of the forgery. I assure you, my parents will not go to jail for this.”
I leaned back in my chair and smiled. “On the other hand, the bad publicity, the humiliation…well, it couldn’t happen to a nicer couple, could it?”
For a moment, I wasn’t sure if the others would go along with me. But then everyone laughed.
“What do they say?” Rita asked. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
# # #
Copyright 2012 Linda Johnson
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
The Switch is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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.