In full disclosure, I actually once worked at an art gallery for a few months. It was a pretty interesting experience filled with nice and charming people, though not as dramatic or as colorful as the story presented below.
Tonight at The Rogue’s Gallery, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 1,378
“I have never seen a more delightful crowd.” The words flew out of Paul’s mouth, bouncing off the wineglass poised in his hand and across the now-smiling faces of his audience. They formed an amphitheater of faces and fine clothing, merging together under the fluorescent lights of the gallery. “It’s not hyperbole for me to say that I’ve never had the privilege of hosting so many artists, patrons, and friends in one room before.”
Paul Vidal paused. He half-turned to regard the wineglass and added, “Well, not unless you count the many times my lovely wife and I dine alone.”
That got a laugh and a round of applause. Paul lifted his gaze over the brim of his glass to the young lady standing in the front row, who shook her head but smiled back anyway. The gleam in her eyes told him that he’d get an earful for that remark later.
Oh, how he was looking forward to it.
“But in all sincerity, I’d like to congratulate everyone here for making tonight possible.” Paul raised his glass and looked out over the venue. Not just at the smiling artists and their wealthy guests, but at the white plaster walls behind them, adorned with oil paintings, framed photographs, and real-time holographic displays of Market Street. “If not for your generosity and your enthusiasm, we wouldn’t have gotten so many local artists out here and made so many sales. I couldn’t be happier to help so many rising stars of the art world find a place in your own homes and galleries, ladies and gentleman. May you all continue to breathe new life into this part of the city!”
A hundred or so hands lifted their own glasses in response. Everyone drank and Paul stopped short to catch his wife’s eye one last time.
Sarah was still smiling, but without the embarrassment this time. And he knew then that he’d gotten the speech right at last.
Half an hour later, the mood was still running high throughout the gallery. Paul navigated his way from handshake to handshake, refreshing his guests’ wine and answering every question tossed his way.
“…Why yes, El Vestido is one of my favorites. Notice the way the gold fades toward black when you change the light… Oh, Marcel has a temper, but he’s only that way outside his studio. And believe you me, once you see him at work, it’s like… Ah, let me see. This painting is currently priced at seven hundred and fifty. Now, mind you, that’s actually a discount for tonight. Yes, poor Claudine has had a rough year and this portrait is how she chose to remember her dear husband and her son, God rest their souls…”
And on it went. Eventually, around a quarter past midnight, the guests began to leave. Paul stood by the door, personally thanking everyone and seeing to it that his assistant handed out their parting tokens: a small plastic coin stamped with the gallery’s logo and the exhibition’s date. Most of them would probably forget it in a week or two, but seeing the light on their faces when they took the token was all that Paul needed.
“So, which one am I now?” A voice purred into his ear. “An artist, a patron, or your friend?”
Paul turned around, opening his arms to let Sarah Valencia snuggle up against his chest. Her red hair curled around her shoulders and he couldn’t stop himself from stroking it. What did it matter if anyone was watching? He was done for the night.
“Didn’t you hear the speech?” Paul answered quietly. “All three at once.” Then he bent down and kissed her forehead. “I can’t thank you enough. This party wouldn’t have worked without your friends.”
“And don’t you forget it,” said Sarah. Pushing one hand into his chest, she lifted her head and smiled up at him. “We did it, Paul. We’re recognized now. Mini-celebrities.”
Paul laughed. “Only mini? I’ll have to try harder next time.”
Sarah nodded and leaned up to kiss him. Paul kissed her back, holding her close to his chest and letting her hair cascade over his arms.
When she pulled away, Sarah’s face was glowing. She cleared her throat and took a step back.
“If you need me, I’ll be upstairs,” she said. Even as she turned away, she couldn’t resist a wink at him. “Don’t be long now.”
Paul pressed his hand to his breast. “My lady beckons and I must answer.”
He watched her head to the back office and toward the stairwell beyond, then turned back to his assistant Jeanine, who was putting the spare guest tokens in a box. “You might as well head out, kid. And great job, by the way.”
“Thanks.” Jeanine paused to push back a few loose hairs from the bun she was wearing. Stylish and practical—just the combination Paul appreciated in others. “I should warn you I might be late tomorrow morning.”
Paul shrugged. “Come in at noon if you want. We’re gonna keep it casual tomorrow.”
“Sure thing.” Jeanine offered her hand. “Have a good night.”
Paul shook her hand. “You, too. Drive safe.”
By the time she left the gallery, Paul was entirely alone.
He strolled across the main showroom, surrounding himself in the familiar colors of Sarah’s paintings. Every piece he knew by heart, from the first pencil sketch to the quick and delicate brushstrokes from her perfect hand.
“Goddamn,” Paul whispered. He dropped to his knees in front of El Vestido, her most recent work. “I wish I had your talent…”
“Who says you don’t?”
Paul turned his head, not even bothering to look over his shoulder. “You took your time tonight.”
Behind him came the crisp cadence of leather shoes against the marble floor. Tap, tap, tap. “Hey, man. It’s your party. I just came to pay my respects.”
Paul pushed himself up, getting back to his feet in a slow, dignified rise. “So, how’ve you been, Brett?”
The man he faced now was tall and broad-chested. He filled out his dark suit from head to toe, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in an Armani. The gallery lights gleamed off the top of his black shaven head and off the pearly whites of his smile.
“I haven’t been Brett for years now,” said the gentleman. “It’s Bradley Wayne if you must know. SFMOMA just hired me as a curator, so this was little more than a fact-finding mission for us.”
“Us,” Paul repeated.
Brett—or was it Bradley?—spread his hands out. “The museum. Rah’s Boys is a thing of the past, Dom. That operation died after Donetsk.” His grin widened. “As did Brett Fitzsimmons.”
Paul closed the distance between them with quick and precise steps. He looked the other man in the eye, taking a long, deep breath as he did.
“I should warn you that Sarah knows,” he said, calm once more. “She’s forgiven me. And after what happened with Rah, I can forgive you, too. But I won’t forget what we did and I won’t have it mentioned in this place again. Is that clear?”
Bradley shrugged. “Sure, man. It’s all good now. The money’s paid out. We walked away clean, didn’t we?”
“Clean.” Paul allowed himself a small smile. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
“Ain’t nothing cleaner than the wallspace between works of art,” Bradley replied. He glanced over Paul’s shoulder at the painting behind him. “Your wife does good work. Tell her I can get a meeting with our Board of Trustees anytime. They’ll go crazy for her.”
Paul bit back a dismissal. Instead, he offered his hand, which Bradley shook. “Will do. Take care… Mr. Wayne.”
“And you, too, Mr. Vidal.” The gentleman turned and left, still chuckling to himself as his shoes kept up their rigid cadence across Paul’s precious marble floor.
Watching him go, Paul stuck his hands into his pockets and closed his eyes. He could almost hear the screams, calling to him all the way from a filthy back alley in Donetsk. He felt the memory of Sarah’s hand on his cheek, leading him back up the stairs and toward their bed.
Tonight, he’d finally gotten the speech right. He’d do better tomorrow as well.
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