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Bucks County Idyll


A young couple, Stephanie Harrold and Nick Young, compete for a house-sitting position for wealthy art collectors Peter and Amanda Berger in what appears to be an idyllic estate in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They're interviewed for the job by Bergers' agent, Bradford Carroll. The only catch in what looks like a fabulous job is that one of the couple has to be in the elegantly restored stone farmhouse at all times. There have been burglaries involving art theft in the wealthy semi-rural neighborhood, and the Bergers possess a priceless art collection. Stephanie and Nick are chosen. Stephanie, from an upper class background, feels more comfortable in the setting than Nick, a working class guy. Shortly into their tenure, Bradford Carroll arrives to explain that the Bergers have decided to install a state-of-the-art surveillance system on the estate. After the system is ready, Nick and Stephanie know they're being watched.

In Dordogne, France, Amanda urges her husband Peter to return immediately and secretly to the States. She believes that Brad Carroll is secretly de-accessioning the collection.

One night Nick and Stephanie see a shadow on the surveillance screens. Nick goes down to the wine cellar, threatens the intruder with a shotgun. The man stops and, without a shot being fired, collapses dead on the floor. The police proclaim the death a heart attack – the man's pacemaker shorted out. The cops also identify the dead man as Peter Berger, owner of the house.

At the inquest, Amanda Berger pretends total ignorance of her husband's return to their home. A year passes and Stephanie, and especially Nick, try to solve the mystery. Nothing falls into place until she spots a New York Times piece about the Sotheby sale of their former patron's estate. In the viewing parlor prior to the sale, they reacquaint themselves with the familiar objects. Nick insists that the restorers have done a perfect job mending the leg of an Eastern Han dynasty bronze horse that Nick accidentally broke. They question an official, who's annoyed that they could suggest Sotheby's would sell a damaged piece without noting the flaw in the sale catalogue. Halfway through the sale, Nick drags Stephanie from the posh room. They drive to Bucks County, break into the house, enter the wine cellar where step by step they piece together what she saw on the video screen and what he saw of Peter Berger's movements. Slowly they merge their visions – she saw the intruder fiddle with two different light switches. They try the switches in different positions. Nothing works until Nick locates another switch at the back of an empty wine storage bin. They run the combinations and, presto, a door opens to the room in which the art forgeries were made and stored.

Nick explains to police, insurers, and Sotheby's that Mr. Berger, art dealer and fence, has been selling off forgeries of his collection to private buyers. Amanda Berger sold what was left of the real collection, including the authentic Chinese horse. Mrs. Berger and agent Bradford Carroll collaborated on the surveillance installation without Peter's knowledge. The night Peter entered the cellar, Carroll hid in the wine cellar with a sophisticated electronic device, a scrambler mechanism that shorted out the extremely sensitive pacemaker. Nick appeared with the shotgun, on cue, to provide the plausible excuse that Peter was frightened to death. The plot worked perfectly. Although Nick's description puts together all the facts, he has no incontrovertible evidence that will convict Amanda and Carroll of murder. The police don't really care: they believe that the forgeries provided the motive for Peter's return and explanation of why he said nothing about his trip to his innocent wife. The official explanation of the crime, which both Stephanie and Nick know to be false, leaves the young couple pondering an uncertain, perplexing future with a firmer sense of their desire and need for one another.