TORONTO, A NOVEL: Chapter 36

The phone rang just as Coal Blackstone was lifting Fish—now as wet and slippery as his name—from the sudsy bathtub wherein  he had just undergone his third bath in the three days since Coal and her partner, Lincoln Ford, had taken him in.  Coal hurriedly set Fish on the bathmat, swaddled him about in an enormous black towel and rushed down the hall to the phone.  It was Joy Pommery.
     “What are you doing right now?” Joy asked her.
     “Washing a dog.”
     “That doesn’t sound much like you,” said Joy.
     “I know,” said Coal, attempting to blow a tuft of bubble bath from the end of her nose.   “That’s what Linc says too.  What’s on your mind, Joy?  I really have to get back to the wet pooch. I left him in the bathroom, shivering in a towel.”
     “Well, I won‘t keep you long from your dog-wrangling,” said Joy. “It‘s just that this kind of odd thing has happened.”
     “Yes. Cass and I were having lunch yesterday at a little place he likes out in the west end,” Joy explained, “and as we were waiting for a cab, we noticed, stapled to a telephone pole, a poster reporting a lost dog….”
     “You think it’s the dog I brought home?  You think it’s the one I have?”
     “Well, I don’t know,” Joy told her.  “You can’t tell.  There was no picture of the dog on the poster.  Just the fact that it’s apparently called “Fish.”  And then there’s a name and phone number to call.  Somebody named Bliss.”
     “But how can anyone tell this Bliss they’ve got her dog if nobody knows what the creature looks like?”
     “Well that’s the thing,” agreed Joy.  “But that’s not really the reason I’m calling you.”
     “No.  The reason I’m calling is to tell you about these posters.   In the one Cass and I saw, the lost-dog message and the name “Bliss” and the phone number were all added on top of a really skilful—amazingly skilful—old master-type painting.  But it was clearly painted now.  Like yesterday.  And it wasn’t a reproduction or anything.  Whoever painted it, paints like Raphael or Caravaggio or…oh, I don’t know who.  Some great renaissance painter!”
     Coal kept thinking about the wet dog in the bathroom.
     “Did you take the poster with you?” she asked Joy.
     “Yes.  But listen, Coal—and I know you’re washing the new dog and all that—the painting of these posters was exactly the same kind—really very skilful—as were on those death-threat notes Cass was receiving.  Actually he’s still getting them.”
     “He is?”
     “Yes, I forgot to tell you.”
     “And you say the paintings of the notes look rather like the painting on the missing dog poster?”
     “Not rather like, Coal,” said Joy.  “Exactly alike.  I mean it has to be the same painter!
     Coal could hear the dog shaking excess water all over the bathroom.
     Listen, Joy, can you give me the phone number of this Bliss person?”
     “Sure. Got a pen?”
     “No, wait just a sec.”  Coal went to the kitchen, dried her hands, and came back to the phone with a small notebook and her favourite Mont Blanc fountain pen.
     Joy gave her the number.
     “And you say the name is Bliss?”
     “Yes, and the dog’s name—if you can believe this—is ‘ Fish.”
     “Fish?” Coal was surprised to hear a sudden short yelp of what sounded about like recognition from the dog in the bathroom. 
     “I think I’d better give this Bliss person a call,” she told Joy.
     “Be careful, Coal.  It all sounds very weird to me.”
     “To me too,” Coal said.