Olivia Wildenstein grew up in New York City, the daughter of a French father with a great sense of humor, and a Swedish mother whom she speaks to at least three times a day. She chose Brown University to complete her undergraduate studies and earned a bachelorâs in comparative literature. After designing jewelry for a few years, Wildenstein traded in her tools for a laptop computer and a very comfortable chair. This line of work made more sense, considering her college degree.
When sheâs not writing, sheâs psychoanalyzing everyone she meets (Yes. Everyone), eavesdropping on conversations to gather material for her next book, baking up a storm (that she actually eats), going to the gym (because she eats), and attempting not to be late at her childrenâs school (like she is 4 out of 5 mornings, on good weeks).
Wildenstein lives with her husband and three children in Geneva, Switzerland, where sheâs an active member of the writing community.
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THE MASTERMINDS â CHAPTER 1
2 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE SHOW
A girl who stitches quilts.
This is the first thing I learn about Ivy Redd. After skimming through her Masterpiecers application, I toss it aside because quilt making is not really art. I admire people who stitch stuff. My grandmother was one of them. Up until the day she died, she was part of a quilting club who met each week. Theyâd cut and sew squares of gaudy-patterned cotton with such fervor that it had seemed as though their lives would fall apart if they didnât truss them up with their needles.
Dominic, the president and founder of the Masterpiecers School, picks up the application and thumbs through it.
âDonât bother. Itâs quilts,â I say, grabbing the next file.
He studies the picture stapled to the last page. âYou are too rash in judging this girl. She has something. What do you think, Josephine?â
He hands it over to the vice-president of the school.
âPas mal. But we only have one more slot. And I found the perfect candidat.â
âReally?â Dominic asks, leaning back against the silk upholstery of his wooden chair. It was carved by one of the schoolâs graduates, Christos Natter. One side is curved and smooth, while the other looks windblown, stretching irregularly toward Dominicâs bulky chestnut bookcase. âWho struck your fancy?â
Josephine flings a file onto the eighteenth-century French desk next to the industrial steel lamp. Dominic picks up the file, takes one look at it, and dumps it back on the table.
âPourquoi pas?â Josephine asks.
Dominic flaps his hand in the air. âHeâs a former soldier, not an artist.â
She folds one leg over the other and rests her hands on her bony white knee. âThat is not a reason, Dom. Heâs skilled. Look at that rope he wove while he was on tour.â
âCome on, Jo. Itâs a rope,â Dom says.
âAnd thisââshe nods toward Ivy Reddâs fileââis a quilt. Why does quilt trump rope?â
âBecause!â I can tell from the way he looks away from Josephine that thereâs more to his staunch refusal than the medium of the pieces.
âYou both have a special person,â she says, âwhom you did not pick on merit. I am certain Chase is a talented boy, Brook, and I am certain that Mariaâactually, Iâm not certain Maria has anything to offer besides her body, Domâbut I accepted. Now consent to my choice.â
Dominic reddens at the mention of his ex-girlfriend, a former beauty queen and ham-fisted artist whose claim-to-fame are crude renditions of overly made-up pageant contestants. What I heard was that he impregnated her and the only way to get rid of the baby was accepting her onto the show.
Josephine rises, and her tailored pearl-gray dress slips right into place over her skeletal body. âI will alert Mr. Kevin Martin that he has been selected. Oh, wait. Thatâs why we have Brook now, nâest-ce pas? To do all the menial jobs.â
I glare at her, although sheâs right. That is why Iâm here, to do the jobs no one else cares to do. âIâll notify the contestants this afternoon.â
She gives me a crooked smile before stepping out of Dominicâs office.
âShe hates me,â I tell Dom some time after she shuts the door.
âShe hates everyone.â
âExcept her fiancÃ©.â
âI doubt she even likes him.â
As I straighten out the files of the applicants who didnât make the cut, Dominic tut-tuts.
âThe girl who sews quilts; keep her application aside. Weâll be needing it.â
I slip it out of the pile and put it on top. âWhy?â
âBecause.â He shifts his eyes toward his cell phone. Dominic is certain we are being listened to. âSheâs a sound runner-up.â As he talks, he grabs a piece of paper embossed with his name and scribbles something.
I scratch the stubble on my cheek as I read it. When my jaw unhinges, Dominic picks up his message and shreds it into dozens of tiny pieces that he drops into his leather bin. They flutter down like confetti, settling in the dusky emptiness. I doubt anyone will collect them and glue them back together, but just in case, I crouch down, swipe some into my palm, and stick them inside my blazer pocket.
I have as much to lose as Dominic. No, thatâs a lie. I have more to lose because itâs my name thatâs being used, not his. Mine.
âItâs a beautiful day, isnât it?â he says, all cheery again. âI love spring. Donât you?â
âIâm heading out for lunch. Iâll see you tonight,â he says.
âDidnât your father tell you? Weâre having dinner all together at his house. To celebrate the sale. It went well, didnât it?â
I make a jerky head movement thatâs supposed to be a nod.
âDid it pay off the bills?â he asks.
âNot all of them.â
He pats my shoulder. âIâm sure theyâll get paid soon. I have an idea.â His fingers clamp down around my shoulder like a metal claw.
Iâm starting not to like his ideas.
âIâll tell you later.â He squeezes once, then lets go and walks out, whistling a tune that sounds like something from a Broadway show.
Clutching the pile of applications against me, I stop by my office, which is more of a glass cubicle than an office. I donât even have screens or blinds. As I heave the folders onto my desk, I notice one of the secretaries fanning a leaflet in front of a young boyâs face. It throws me back in time. Four years to be exact. I was standing at his exact spot, overwhelmingly excited at the prospect of starting at the Masterpiecers. Four years ago, when everything was still so peachy. When my family was still rich. When my little brother didnât despise me for having usurped âhis life.â
The school has strict laws forbidding siblings from attending. Supposedly, itâs to discourage family feuds. Didnât discourage Chase from hating my guts.
Movement behind the secretary catches my attention. Josephine stands next to her triangular-shaped desk, where a lone potted orchid holds court over an ultra-skinny computer screen and a pencil cup made of cerulean blue clay. It looks as though it was crafted by a kindergartener, when in fact it was fashioned by an alumni from this school.
Josephine sees me staring. Thereâs something unsettling about the way she gazes back, eyes sort of slanted. My shirt collar suddenly feels too tight so I pop the top button open. She smiles that glacial smile of hers, then gapes down at my jacket pocket. I stick my hand inside protectively, before reassuring myself that Josephine Raynoir does not have X-ray vision. I rub the pieces between the pads of my fingers, feeling the raised edges in the vellum where Dominic inked his command: Find out who Kevin Martin really is.
Josephine flicks a switch and her glass walls blur, and I am left with the shadow of her body moving about like the giant stick insect I won at a fair when I was twelve. I kept it in a murky aquarium, which I couldnât be bothered to clean. Our housekeeper, Carmelina, was too frightened of the bug to touch the thing, so it became filthier and filthier until my mother got so sick of it, she seized the aquarium and dumped it on the curb for some other little boy, or some garbage collector, to find.
I eye my trashcan, but decide against putting anything inside. Itâs lunchtime, and even though Iâm not hungry, I walk out of Delancey Hall, a two-story building with glossy green ivy scuttling over the brick walls. It was named after Dominicâs favorite adviser, Robert Delancey. A few years back, when I was starting on college applications, The New York Times dedicated its entire art section to the man. It was titled The Monocled Star-Maker. My father read it out loud to us over breakfast.
âArt is Chaseâs dream, Dad. Not mine,â I remember telling him, mostly to get him off my case.
Chase looked up from his big bowl of cornflakes, milk dribbling down his chin. He was fourteen then. It was the year his upper lip finally grew some fuzz.
âI wasnât given a choice,â Dad said.
âWell Iâd like a choice,â my seventeen-year-old self demanded.
âAnd youâll get one,â Mom chimed in, clicking into the dining room for her usual breakfast of sliced papaya, raw oatmeal, and strong coffee. She dropped a kiss on my forehead, and then tried to peck Chaseâs, but he ducked away from her. âRight, Henry? We always said we would let the kids choose.â
In the end, after two years spent at Duke University, I asked to transfer into the art school to my fatherâs delight. It was the same year Chase sent in his college applications. His top choice was the Masterpiecers, but I beat him to it, something he never forgave me for. Just like he never forgave me for consoling his ex after their awful breakup.
As I walk toward Riverside Drive, I spot a trashcan. I grab the slivers of paper from my pocket and drop them inside. I open a search window on my phoneâs browser and type in Kevin Martinâs name. There are several pages of results. I add the words âretired sergeant.â
There is only one result.
Dominic was rightâ¦Josephine is investigating him.