Submitted into Contest #76 in response to: Write a story told exclusively through dialogue.... view prompt


Fiction Suspense Mystery

Morning, Sir Charles.

Ah, good morning James.

A bit out of the way for our chats, isn't it?

But so much more pleasurable than our usual meeting place on the Embankment, don't you think?

Different, I'll give you that. But why here? Why the RA?

James, have some respect. The Royal Academy of Art, please.

Whatever. I will never understand why you Brits place such deference to things.

History, James, history. Something of which you Americans have limited background or understanding.

Well, we are certainly surrounded by history here.

Indeed, James, and that is one of the main reasons why I asked you to meet here.

What, so that we could look at some old Masters?

Tell me James, what do we learn from history?

Do you mean 'Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.'

Yes, something along those lines, but I much prefer those of Machiavelli to those of Churchill: 'Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times.'


Tell me James, what are we looking at?

You mean this large fresco?

James, James. Do they teach you nothing of the Arts in America? That is not a fresco. A fresco refers to a painting made on wet plaster - clearly, therefore, what we have here is not a fresco.

Well, excuse me - I stand corrected.

Indeed, so what are we looking at?

Da Vinci's 'Last Supper'?

Oh James, please, do not compound your ignorance.

What do you mean, Sir Charles? What is it, then?

Da Vinci painted his 'Last Supper' on the wall of the dining room of a monastery in Milan. So this cannot be Da Vinci's 'Last Supper', now can it?

OK, point taken. So what is it or whose is it?

Better. This is a copy by one of Leonardo's pupils - Giampietrino - one of three major copies of his master's work.

And why are we looking at it?

What does this subject tell us, James?

It refers to Christ outing Judas as his betrayer, I believe.

Close, but not quite. Christ did not in so many words accuse Judas Iscariot, but informed his disciples that one of them would betray him. And Da Vinci has captured the consternation of these twelve in this image. From downright disbelief in the faces of Matthew and Jude Thaddeus as they question Simon in the right-most group of three to the sheer anger of Peter as he leans past Judas in the group immediately to Christ's right. But without doubt, in this image, Da Vinci portrays Judas' guilt.

And is that why we are here? To get me to thank you for the help from MI6 in identifying the double-agent in Washington last month?

Not at all, James. I am sure that we both recognise the need for shared intelligence. 

Then what is the significance of this meeting?

Patience, James, patience.

I have a busy schedule, Sir Charles, as I am sure that you do as well.

Indeed, James, such is our calling.

Well, then. Why have you dragged me to Piccadilly? Surely not only for a quick lesson on the history of art?

No, James, no lesson on art, but a pointer to learning from history.

And what lesson can I learn from this painting?

Study the picture again, James. Tell me not so much what you see, but what you do not see.

You've lost me, Sir Charles, and my patience is starting to wear thin from this cat and mouse charade.

Oh, James! I am not here to waste your time, I assure you of that.

Then what?

Are you a mathematician, James? Do numbers fascinate you?

To a point.

Then observe the numbers hidden in this picture.


Well, let us start with the number '3'?

You mean that the disciples are grouped into threes?

Good, that is one element. But look also at the number of Windows - three again. And the 3-sided triangular shape of the figure of Christ. All elements pointing to the Holy Trinity.

OK, I see that now, but where is this leading us?

Observation, James, or lack of it. But let me show you another.

Please, because I am starting to lose interest.

Art and Science are intertwined here for all to see - but the effectiveness of observation will either highlight that alliance or leave it undiscovered.

So we move from Art to Science? You really are trying my patience, Sir Charles.

Come, come, James. Knowledge is something to work towards, it is not something which is innate.

Pray show, tell...

Observe the following...1 table, 1 central figure, 2 side walls, 3 windows, 5 groups of figures, 8 panels on the walls, and 13 individual figures.


1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13.

The Fibonacci Sequence! Well I never!

Why should you, James? Your path to the top of the CIA was via the Analysis and Diplomacy route. You were never a Field Agent where your existence - your very life - depended on keen observation.

But what does this have to do with us meeting here?

As I said earlier, James, the Art of Observation and Learning from History.

So is there more to observe here? Am I missing some historical coincidence?

Indeed you are, James, indeed you are.


We may have helped you to identify the mole in your organisation - your very own Judas - but what History tells us is never to rest on our laurels. Remember Machiavelli - ’human events ever resemble those of preceding times.'

Sorry, Sir Charles, you really are losing me here. What 'human events'?

You mean 'which events', James. Please respect our language. We may have a common language but, please, do not make it 'common'.

My apologies, but do please get to the point.

Observe the painting again, James.

What am I looking for?

Study the disciples. Is there anything which stands out from the ordinary?

Well, apart from Christ, they are all in a state of anguish or concern.

Closer, James, closer.

No, sorry, Sir Charles, you have lost me. 

Ok, let me enlighten you.


Sarcasm will get you nowhere, James.

Sorry, please continue.

Observe the disciple sitting to the immediate right of Christ. What do you see?

Someone leaning away from Christ. So?

Closer, James, look closely at that figure.

Is that a woman?

It could be. It is supposed to be John, but many say that it is actually Mary Magdalene.

Well, well, well.

And she leans away from Christ, leans more towards Judas.

Wait! Are you saying that there were two people responsible for the betrayal of Christ?

No, not at all. 

Then what?

Observation and History, James.


Look at this photograph.

That's my secretary Louise.

Indeed, James, and who is that she is cuddling up to?

I can't believe this. That looks like Igor Kranovich!

And that is exactly who it is, James. Igor Kranovich, Deputy General of the former KGB and now Putin's right-hand man. The very man who turned your agent in Moscow before his return to Washington. And who do you think gave Kranovich your agent’s name?

You son of a bitch, Charles! You have been spying on my people!

And you, James, have learned nothing from history and are incompetent in observation!

You can't go around spying on us, Charles! It's against every confidence we have between us.

And that confidence is wafer-thin, James. And if I may offer some advice: 'cura te ipsum', or as you may know it: 'Physician, heal thyself!'.


Before you start telling me what I can and cannot do, get your own house in order.

Charles... Sir Charles... You have me - us - by the proverbial short and curlies.

Indeed I do, James, indeed I do. But such is life. It could so easily have been one of ours.

OK, leave it with me. I will get this sorted.

Thank you, James. Now don't let me hold you back. As you said earlier, you do have a busy day ahead of you.

Yes, Sir Charles, that I do, that I do.

January 12, 2021 17:02

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Tom .
11:05 Jan 23, 2021

Loved the Art History. I studied it at Kingston Uni and it was never as interesting as this. I want to give you a balanced critique. One problem I had was naming the American, James. I get the bond allusion in his character, profession and flippancy. I just feel he should have been British. To keep the American link he could have been Felix (Lichter). Bonds American counterpart. To be a truly elevated pastiche the referenced characters could have been historic bond villians. The clever analysis of painting is quite heavy in spots and effec...


David Murphy
15:55 Jan 23, 2021

Many thanks for the feedback Tom. I "forced" Sir Charles to call him James instead of the "Jim" his colleagues might have called him. I honestly did not think of the 007 7connection - LOL! This tale was conceived from our writing group's topic of "Base a story around a famous painting".


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