There were two of them (known). They were identical twins, but there was a third, unknown, except to them. Their names were Tim and Tom Kern, and they were fine artists. They painted together, and it was the perfect gimmick for the art patrons and promoters. Their art world name was T and T which was how they were promoted and how they signed all of their work. Two was perfect symmetry. They had become notorious to interviewers for finishing each other’s sentences as if they shared a mind. The balance between them, in speech or in their presence, was uncanny, as if there were something invisible. Maybe it was in part a shared secret, that there was a third, unseen.
There’s something called vanishing twin syndrome. If a twin miscarries in the womb, it is possible that the surviving twin will absorb the one that has died. T and T were unusual in several ways. Instead of identical twins, they were actually two of a set of identical triplets. The two of them were mentally connected, even before they were fetuses. Their third brother, however, had no such connection with them. While sharing a confining space together, there was no shared thought or awareness with the third. The first collaborative act of T and T then, while still in the womb, was to choke off their third sibling from his food supplying umbilical. A crimp and a twist, and their sibling was dead. As typical, T and T absorbed what remained. It was their first appropriation, what they would become famous for as artists. Killers are often haunted by a fear of discovery. T and T suspiciously eyed every new arrival in their lives, whom they would first suspect of being their unborn brother in disguise, come to claim some unimaginable revenge on them. They often felt a kind of lingering, like smells, or tension in a room. In every interview they did for art magazines, in which they cleverly finished each other’s sentences, there was also an awkward pause, as if they were waiting for a missing other to pipe in. Or the door to a limousine would stay open for a moment longer than needed, for the person who would never enter.
And so, it was no surprise to them, really, that one afternoon, when the gallery that represented them opened its doors and turned on its track lights, that one of T and T’s large collaborative paintings had been altered. The lower right corner of the wooden panel was subject to a kind of thin reddish-brown haze that didn’t recede, but which sat on the surface, as if it had been sprayed by a gaseous expulsion. A mild dabbing with water and soap was to no avail in removing it. In a day, the spot had spread. Another day saw it widen and deepen like night. Reports began to arrive from exhibitions and collectors. The same was happening to T and T’s work everywhere. It seemed a scandal at first, that they had used inferior art materials that began to deteriorate or fade as soon as it was dry. But it revealed itself to be a deeper mystery. As all of their work worldwide became a monochrome field of faded brown, analysis showed that what was on the surface, sealed beneath a heavy coat of varnish, was blood, their third collaborator. Sales were at a standstill for a time, and even in their studio, unfinished work was subject to the same effect. Eventually, a small number of collectors contrived to buy up all of these works, sensing something collectable in the novelty. The works of art remain in storage at two unknown locations. The mystery remains for the public, but T and T know. Nothing short of a death bed confession will expose the truth. But isn’t art somewhat famously a lie?