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The gun is in my hands, cold and heavy. My arms

shake as I lift it.

“Come on, Catherine,” Carlos whispers into my

ear. “You can only save one of them. Do it. Pick one.”

His black hair is gelled back and his breath is

warm on my face and neck. The gun is wobbling all

over the place.

“I don’t think...”

“Don’t think,” he says softly. “Just act. Which will

you save? Who do you love more?”

My eyes blur with tears. “I can’t!”

“It’s not murder, Catherine,” Carlos whispers.

“Come on, choose one.”

I blink away the tears to clear my vision and find...

mirrors. Everywhere mirrors. Reflecting images of me

in different outfits: jeans and jumper, a little girls

dress, a business suit, a pink tutu, a cat burglar... And

it's no longer Carlos whispering in my ear, it's myself.

“Come on, Catherine. Pick one. Who are we going

to be?”

I scream out in frustration and throw the gun


“I don't know! I don't know who I am! I hate you!

All of you!”

My foot lashes out and shatters the nearest mirror.

I spin and kick out again, again and again until

there's only one mirror standing.

I walk up to it fully prepared to demolish it like the


“Wait,” I say to myself. “There's only one of us left


“Yeah?” I say, pulling back a fist. “Well I don't like

you much either!”

I'm being shaken. Someone is holding me down.

My eyes flash open. It's dark and someone is pushing

me down into the bed. In panic I lash out. The heel of

my palm colliding with someone's face. They fall

back cursing and I leap out of bed. Hands up,

prepared to defend myself.

“IT'S ME!” Dad shouts. “It's just me. You were

shouting in your sleep.”

I put my bedside lamp on, revealing Dad in a pair

of green silk pyjama bottoms, shoulder length black

hair falling out of his ponytail. He's also clutching his


“Did I get you?” I ask sheepishly.

“It's okay. Nothing broken,” Dad smiles, wincing

slightly. “Bad dream?”

“Yeah. Dreamt I was in a dress,” I say pulling my

bedding straight.

“Catherine,” Dad warns. “Remember what Dr

Jones said. You should talk about things like, er, this.”

He ends lamely.

I know what Dad thinks. He thinks I'm

traumatised by what Carlos did to me six weeks ago -

giving me a gun and telling me I had to shoot one of

my parents so that the other might live. But I've sat

through enough invasive counselling sessions with

Dr Mortimer 'Call me Mort' Jones, to know when to

keep my mouth shut.

“It's not what you think,” I tell Dad.

“Why did you scream then?”

I shrug. “I really was wearing a dress.”

Dad rubs the back of his neck with his hand and

sighs. “Right, well, I want you to tell Dr Jones about

it, whatever it was, first thing tomorrow.”

“Not if I can help it,” I mumble.

“Do you think you can go back to sleep?” he asks.

“Because you've got that test tomorrow as well.”

“Well, NO!” I say. “Not now you've reminded me.”

Stupid test.

“You'll do fine,” Dad says.

“Get out,” I grumble.

“You've been revising lots so...”

“Out!” I point to the door.

“And then after the test you can see Dr Jones.”

“OUT!!!” I holler.


Rich green material frames a table ladened with

luscious foods and half-filled wine glasses. An ornate

golden jug with a mother of pearl centre and a blue

velvet box topped with seashells surround a large

porcelain platter overflowing with a sumptuous feast:

fat juicy grapes, plump ripe peaches, a half-peeled

lemon, prawns, cherries, apricots, plums... And most

prominent of all is a bright red lobster.

Rumble. Rumble.

Oh God. I hope no one can hear my stomach

rumbling. Ended up over-sleeping and had to skip

breakfast. I look up from the glossy reproduction of

the lobster painting on my test paper to see if anyone

is looking at me. Luckily Ollie and Gabriel are

diligently working on their own tests next to me on

the sofas and Monnie is typing away at her reception


Rumble. Rumble.

Shhhhhhh stomach!

I’m just so hungry. How do they expect me to

concentrate on this test properly with an empty

stomach? I'm nervous enough as it is. I hate tests. I go

all funny and spacey, like my brain switches off just

when I need it!

But it's okay, calm down, it's no biggie, just a pop

quiz. It doesn't mean anything. Just a few questions

to make sure we're all paying attention.

But I'm so not paying attention!

Right, focus.

Q1: Who is this painting by?

What painting? Oh right, the lobster one. Jeez, I

don’t know. I mean, if I’d known it was going to be

such hard work here at the Fine Art Restoration Trust,

I might have stayed at school – well, okay, maybe

not... Flashback of loneliness and bad-boy Brent teasing

and tormenting me five days a week. Definitely not.

But it’s nearly Christmas for Pete’s sake! Where’s

their festive spirit?

Q2: Were there many still-life paintings like this


God, I hope not because it is very boring.

I mean, I can appreciate a masterpiece like Leonardo

da Vinci's Mona Lisa or Botticelli's beautiful The Birth

of Venus. But this? This is someone's table. They make

you do this sort of thing on rainy days at school – it's

not art. It's a form of torture!

Sighing, I tilt back my head. Ooh, I never noticed

the ceiling in here is painted the same rich red as the

walls. It's really quite posh this reception area, dark

wood panelling with red and gold décor - much nicer

than the plain, open-plan office behind it, where I

work. Have to keep it looking smart for the clients, I

suppose. After all, we are supposed to be the world's

premier art restorers - in the cleaning up sense, not

the secret stealing back from bad guys sense. Not that

there's been a lot of that lately. The most exciting

thing I get to do is the Friday afternoon doughnut


Rumble. Rumble.

Ahhh! Stop thinking about food.

Q3: What is interesting about the lobster?

What? Who cares about the flipping lobster? I

mean, even if someone was daft enough to steal such

a boring painting, never, in a million years, would the

lobster be of importance when I went to get it back.

Why are they being so cruel to me? We should be

concentrating on physical things like espionage and

fighting, the stuff I’m good at. Not this art-history


Q4:Why does the artist show a plum half eaten by


He does? Oh, that’s gross! Why paint a nice picture

of ripe fruit and then ruin it with maggots? I bet it

just took so long to paint that all the fruit started to

rot and produce flies.

Oh, I’m so hungry even rotting fruit is starting to

look edible.

I glance over at Ollie to see how he's doing. Sitting

on the sofa to my right, wearing his usual navy

pinstripe suit jacket over a grey hoody and blue jeans,

he has his head bent low in concentration. He's got

russet orange hair today, which is actually nicer than

the bogey green he’s been sporting for the past week,

as it suits his dark African-American skin better. And

he’s writing loads! I lift my chin in a vain attempt to

see what he’s...

“Catherine,” Monnie warns.

Damn. Busted.

How can she possibly type, answer the phone and

spot me cheating?

The lift door pings open and I’m glad of the

distraction. A fit-looking cycle courier walks out. He

catches my eye and grins. I look away quickly with a

blush. Bet he's wondering why three teenagers are

doing a pop quiz on the sofas – but this is the only

place Monnie can keep an eye on us and get on with

her own work.

I glance back to see the fit courier hand over a

package wrapped in brown paper. He grins at me

again. I wonder how old I look today? Certainly more

than my measly fifteen years, but probably not that

much older. He's really is quite fit looking. Maybe I...

“Last few minutes left,” Monnie says sternly, in my



Q5: How does the painting make you feel?

Oh God, no! I get enough of that from Dr 'Call me

Mort' Jones. I bet it was him who put this little teaser

in. And I can't believe Dad has scheduled an extra

appointment with him already, right after this! When

do I get some food? I really need calories to do battle

with the doctor.

Gabriel huffs quietly to himself on my left. He

looks like some old fashioned poet, sitting there on

the arm of the sofa, back against the wall, leg

dangling, pen to his lips, golden surfer-dude hair

stroking his slightly tanned neck...

Hmm, can’t look at Gabriel for too long or I start to

drool. Luckily the spell breaks every time he opens

his mouth, but you can’t deny he is serious eye-candy.

“Okay, that’s it,” Monnie says.

“Finally!” I say jumping to my feet.

“It was only fifteen minutes,” says Ollie, frowning

in bewilderment as he hands Monnie his completed

test paper.

I shrug as I hand her my own paper. It’s alright for

him, he knows stuff. I didn’t have anything to write.


I suddenly realise I didn’t actually get round to

writing anything, nothing at all.

Not even my name.


“So, how’d you think you did?” Ollie asks me as

Monnie adds Gabriel’s paper to ours and files them


“Terrible,” I mutter.

“Everybody says that after a test. I bet you did

fine,” he smiles.

I look at him and say, “I didn’t write anything.”

“Nothing at all?” he frowns.

“Nada. Zilch.”


“It’s not my fault I don’t know anything,” I snap.

“No one’s taught me anything.”

“They gave you text books.”


“And you’re supposed to read them,” Ollie


“In my own time?” I ask incredulously.

He nods.

“Shit. I’ve been using them to prop my telly up.”

Ollie shakes his head.

“Right, time for a break I feel,” Gabriel says. He

doesn’t look like he likes tests anymore than I do.

Finally something we have in common - but is it

enough to sustain a fulfilling relationship?

“Cafe Metro?” suggests Ollie.

“I'm supposed to meet go Dr Dead Annoying,” I


“Who?” says Gabriel.

“Dr Mort Jones.”

“Cos mort is French for dead,” Ollie adds grining

“Yes, thank you, Einstein. I think I could have

worked that one out for myself.” Gabriel says.

“Yeah, but it would have taken a while,” Ollie


“Do you think he'll mind if I, say, don't turn up?” I

ask them.

“Nah,” says Ollie. “He'll just put it down to post-

traumatic stress. It'll be fine. Come on.”

“Hold on a minute,” Monnie interrupts.

Oh no! Oh no! She hasn’t noticed my blank test

paper yet, has she?

Please don’t have a go at me. Please don’t make me stay


“Botticelli has a nice surprise for you,” she says.

All three of us look at her suspiciously.

“Honestly,” she smiles.

Boss man Botticelli, or Botty as I like to call him,

has never been nice to anyone about anything. We are

not falling for this.

“Can’t it wait?” I ask, desperate for some food.

Monnie’s benign smile is instantly replaced by a

wave of hot anger (her mood swings are legendary).

“No. It can not wait,” she shouts. “Get over there


Such a big voice for such a little lady.

“Nice one,” Gabriel moans at me as we traipse

from the reception area into the open-plan office

behind it.

Everyone looks up at us as we enter - probably

because of Monnie’s shouting. I try to ignore the

smirking faces and focus on the view out of the

window. I’m continually impressed by the London

skyline that fills the glass wall of this top floor office


Botty's office is at the back and we pass about

thirty desks on the way. Only about six of them are

occupied. I’ve never seen more than a dozen or so

people here at any one time, even with the big Venus

case back in October. I wonder, are we short-staffed?

Or are they all on various missions? And if they're on

missions, why aren’t I?

I want a mission.

Somebody please give me something to do!

I am bored stupid.

The three desks nearest to Botty's office belong to

the company’s top employees (read as thieves). Leo -

short for the codename Leonardo Da Vinci (read as

Dad) is number one, the best. The second is Mikey -

short for Michangelo (read as Ollie’s Dad) and third is

Raph - short for Raphael (read as Gabriel’s Dad). We

are their apprentices.

Dad has his legs up on his desk. One hand holds a

frothy coffee and in the other there’s a copy of Art

World magazine. Not terribly busy then.

“How’s it going, Peachkin?” he smiles at me as we


I mumble something.

Mikey rolls up on his swivel chair, his big black

frame blocking our path.

“How’d the test go?” he asks eagerly.

“Great,” beams Ollie.

“That’s my boy,” Mikey beams back.

Although it’s nice to see father and son getting on

so much better now, I’m not sure I can stomach Ollie’s

joy of testing. He probably did do great, as well.

Stupid swot. Not that I’m jealous. I mean I know I can

wipe the floor with him in gym... but then so could

anyone. Even Gabriel.

“What about you?” Dad asks me.

“Me what?”

“The test?”

“Oh, yeah. That. Look, I just want to say I must

have missed the chapter on this guy, yeah? Cos I

know lots about everything else but maybe not so

much on this chap.”

Raph appears from the other side. He looks a lot

like his son - tall, Italian and blonde, but somehow

doesn’t seem as attractive. It’s as though there’s

something dark about him. Gabriel’s not mean or

anything, just self-centred. But I’m not so sure about


“Who was the test on?” he asks.

“Jan Davidsz de Heem,” Gabriel replies.

Oh, was that who it was? I think maybe I did read

something about him once...

“I remember that one,” Raph nods. “Lobster, yes?

Been missing for a while that has.”

“Missing? You mean it's a stolen painting?” I ask,

suddenly a lot more interested.

“Yeah, from the in Germany. One day it was there

the next gone.” Dad shrugs.

“Why haven't we found it?” I frown.

“We can't find everything, Honey,” Dad says.

The door to Botty’s office swings open and the big

boss man stands there in his usual checked shirt and

outlandish bowtie – which I can never equate with

his military cropped white hair and booming voice.

“In your own time,” he glares.

We scuttle in. Best not to make him angry - well,

any more angry than he normally is. Moody bugger.

Botty settles himself back behind his desk.

“Right,” he booms in his normal speaking volume.

“I need you three to do a job for me this afternoon.

Hamilton’s children are ill so he’s had to go home.”

Botty sounds slightly disgusted at this, like it

should be the mother's job to deal with sick kids.

“Hamilton was keeping an eye on the Tate

Modern,” says Botty. “We’ve had a minor tip-off that

someone might be checking the place for a possible

theft. I just want you three to be on the look out for

anything suspicious. Surveillance only. No

interaction. We’ll get you some clipboards and school

uniforms so you can pretend you’re on a school trip

or something.”

School uniform? Oh, man! I thought I was past all


“And while you’re there you might want to the

take the opportunity to visit some of the exhibits,

learn a few things. Especially you, Kandinsky.”

Hmm? Oh, right! That's me.

Kandinsky is my new official art restorer code-

name. I came up with it myself, based on the fact a

Kandinsky painting looks kinda stupid at first but

when you get to know it, it’s pretty cool.

Actually, I’m starting to think I insulted myself


Botty’s still staring at me.

What? Oh, God! He can’t know about my test

paper already, can he?

“Yes, sir,” I reply automatically. If in doubt say

‘yes, sir’.

He looks unconvinced but luckily our meeting is

interrupted. Monnie bustles in without knocking and

she’s holding a stiff folder trailing brown paper. I

figure it must be the package the fit courier delivered.

“Yes?” Botty says, slightly annoyed at her rude


Monnie looks rather pale actually, well, paler than

usual. Her smart black clothes, red horn-rimmed

glasses and straight black bob, stark against her

almost translucent skin.

“This just arrived,” she explains handing over the

folder. “From Spain.”

Botty flips it open and I glimpse a colourful image

of two bronzed men offering flowers to a naked

woman lying on some white sheets. It's done in a

cubism styli, all angles and strong lines. It’s obviously

on paper rather than canvas because of the slim

folder, and based on its chalky looking texture I’d

guess it’s probably done in gouache paint - see, I'm

learning stuff.

Botty looks kinda perplexed. “It’s the Picasso we

got back for the Museu Picasso in Barcelona a couple

of months back,” he says looking at Monnie.

“No, sir. It’s not,” she replies.

“Not what?” he asks.

“A Picasso.”


“Read the note.”

The note’s quite hard to miss . It’s a yellow post-it.

Rather carelessly stuck straight onto the artwork. In

big biro capitals it says 'FAKE'.

Botty explodes to his feet with all manner of

expletives coming out of his mouth.

I cower instinctively. Dad and Mikey rush in,

quickly followed by Raph who seems to have spilt

coffee down himself.

“What’s going on?” Dad says looking at me like I

might know the answer - or more likely be the cause

of it.

Botty goes into meltdown.

“FAKE! We returned a FAKE painting! That’s not

possible. It can’t be...”

Dad leans forward and picks up the picture.

“Picasso’s The Offering!” he says surprised. “How?”

“It was just returned in the post,” Monnie explains.

“There’s no accompanying letter but it has to have

been the curator of the Museu Picasso. He’s returned

it to us, in disgust!”

“We can’t let this get out. We’ll be a bloody

laughing stock,” Botty curses.

“But how can it be a fake?” I whisper to the boys.

“We test them don't we? Carbon date them or


“There’s no way to truly authenticate a painting,”

Gabriel explains. “It's true we can carbon date an

older painting, but all that tells us is how old it is. It

doesn't prove who painted it. And with modern

paintings you can't even date them. Ultimately it

comes down to circumstantial evidence, instinct and


“Yeah, and every expert we know agreed it was the

real Picasso,” frowns Mikey.

“If it is a forgery, it’s a damned good one,” Dad

says scrutinising the picture.

“The curator of the Spanish museum wouldn’t

have sent it so casually through the post if he had any

doubt,” Monnie says quietly.

“Wait, what’s this?” Dad frowns. “Oh, no...”

“What is it?” Botty asks gravely.

Dad looks up, his express serious. “There's a

crescent moon painted in the corner.”

The tension in the room is racked up a notch. Then

Ollie is pulling me out of the door.

“Wait!” I protest. “I want to know about the

crescent moon!”

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” he whispers.

I remember it was him that messed up the first

attempt to get this particular painting back. It was

just before I joined. Dad and Mikey had gone into a

building to retrieve the painting and Ollie’s job was to

guard the exits. A figure emerged with a painting-

sized parcel under his arm and Ollie got scared. He

just froze, letting the thief get clean away. Ollie may

be good at exams but he’s not so hot when it comes to

field operations.

I guess he doesn’t want to hang around to relive

that particular embarrassment.

Gabriel soon joins us outside Botty’s office.

“Shall we go to the Tate Modern then?” he asks


“Are you kidding?” I say. “I wanna know about

this moon thingy.”

“We should get on with the job we've been given,”

Gabriel says sagely. “And if we go to the Tate now, we

won’t have to wear any ridiculous school uniforms.”

Oh, good point.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Ollie nods eagerly, wincing at

every shouted syllable coming out of Botty’s office.

“But...” I frown

Someone calls out my name.

It's Dr Dead Irritating!

The man has actually come looking for me!

“Go! Go! Go!” I urge.

26 be continued.

I will be adding chapters when I can. Please
do leave me comments as this really motivates
me to write more!

And if you haven't read the first book yet,
'The Birth of Venus'
it's available to read here on Scribd.

Thanks for reading :-)

You can also visit the Catherine Lock website:


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