After the war, when I returned to New York City, I miraculously managed to lease the same street-level show-window gallery on 57th Street where I had previously run one of the most profitable art businesses in town.
Jordan Salta was an acquaintance of mine — I had known him since the high school days in Pottstown, Pa. There was something about the guy that made me instinctively keep him at arms length through the years. My instincts, odd as it may seem, have had a better batting average than all the cogitation I have ever employed.
The principal thing that made me mistrust Jordan was his inability ever to look me in the eye for more than a nervous moment. I had been brought up to have calm direct eye-contact with people to whom I was speaking, such was a sign of simple trustworthiness where I came from. I mentioned this disconcerting habit of his to Jordan once, and he flew into a towering, red-faced rage.
He was unmarried but reportedly ran a revolving door of sometimes over-the-hill chance-taking females.
Jordan made a fairly good living as an artist, a painter in oils, both landscape and portraiture. In my 57th Street gallery, I always had one or two of his canvasses on the wall for sale. His stuff moved better than average.
But I never socialized with the guy except for the one time three years ago when he, my wife, Elena, and I lunched together at the University Club.
Elena Gasperini had worked for me for four years, and, as time passed, she became more and more important in my life.
Elena was stunning with her long silky black hair, flashing eyes, brilliant smile and her generous figure. I should add she was very smart to boot.
When Elena and I were together the first time, I noticed a small “E” tattooed very high on her right thigh. She laughed it off and explained it as a teenage caper.
A year after we began dating, Elena and I married one noon at St. Pat’s, with Jordan standing up for us.
Elena’s features were so beguiling that I asked Jordan to paint a facial portrait of her for me. Jordan readily agreed with pleasure.
A while later, after Elena and I had enjoyed a leisurely honeymoon trip in the south of France, a messenger rang the doorbell of our New York apartment and handed me a large carton addressed to me personally.
I opened the carton and there was a note inside that said, “ Know I am thinking of you — Jordan”. When I removed the wrappings I saw the reverse side of a painting in a gilded frame.
I lifted the painting out, and just as I was turning it around to see it clearly, Elena came through the door.
When she and I simultaneously saw the painting, we gasped as we recognized a full-length nude of Elena! High on the painting’s right thigh was that small “E.”
Elena and I spent a disastrous few days in our Park Avenue digs before we called it quits.
I painted over the “E” and put Jordan’s “Elena” for sale on a back wall in my gallery.