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by Vilia Kinell
© - 2008 Vilia Kinell, all rights reserved.
Disclaimer: Hands off - they're mine! *mwuahahahahaaaa.....* Appearances might seem “familiar” whenever I bother to mention them but you know the drill.
Sex: AltFic. Two women. They’re adult and consenting… If you’re not – Go away.
Thanks: To Beanie for comments, suggestions, brainstorming, corrections and all those other things I tend to sorely lack at times. And for saving this installment from oblivion when my computer died (again) and I had no backup of it. *slaps own wrists*
Oh, and by the way!
The first thing that entered my mind as I woke up was a fact. I didn’t care to question the fact that it was a fact. I knew it was a fact. Couldn’t be changed, hidden or tampered with. It was a fact.
The fact itself was unnerving. Not only was there what some would call a sultry photo of me out in cyberspace, in the hands of only god knows who, but so was that stupid survey. It made for the possibility of a very bad combination.
I might not have been that edgy about it had not my dear Sage very suddenly been “called away” shortly after the exchange of pictures. What she had to do or why she had to do it right that very second wasn’t something I had thought to ask at the time so here I was, still wondering why she had logged off without warning.
I had been fretting over it for about two hours, thinking up all sorts of scenarios that all involved me on the cover of The Sun or some other newspaper of similar caliber, until I remembered I wasn’t really famous so that would never happen.
It still ruined my Saturday though and now, on my Sunday morning off I was wondering who would really care to read about me since most people didn’t have a clue as to who I was.
* * *
My father, George Avery, and mother, Lydia Sands, had started a small ‘gallery’ together in the sixties out of the back of their van. It had consisted mostly of their own poems and paintings and altogether appreciation of the creative energies they felt surrounded them and their lives - what others would refer to as hippie art. It functioned as a sort of flea market at first, where trading artwork for weed was more the issue than actually showing any kind of appreciation for it.
Somewhere, somehow, they got their hands on a statuette by a famous sculptor and on the insistence of my aunt, who knew a thing or two about the fine arts, they had traded it for a small collection of antique figurines, heard the estimated value of them and proceeded to trade again, and again, always coming up with just that little more than they had started with.
My mother took the opportunity to get more serious with her craft and mixed her own projects with the various items on display in the gallery. She sold some of them and even had her own exhibitions now and then but she never made a living from it.
When they discovered that she was pregnant she stopped being an artist and instead took the role of the model, posing for my father as he painted his abstract realism. Onlookers would swear he had smoked something while painting those pieces but truth of the matter was that he had never been more clear-headed than during that time.
He always depicted my mother in the same pose. One painting for each month since they found out I was on the way up until I was born. The last piece portrayed me, two weeks old, asleep in my mother’s arms. They still have that one hanging on their bedroom wall.
So how did the child without a first name turn a shady operation into a multimillion dollar company with auction houses across the globe, you ask? Answer is; I didn’t. My aunt did. I was just the one they dumped it all on when they got tired of it.
Producing wealth was never anyone’s goal in my family but selling the company was out of the question. For them it represented something that had gone right. An achievement where no success had been predicted or expected. A happy accident. They wanted to see how far they could take it and when they thought they couldn’t do any better they walked away.
I never had any official training as an auctioneer, nor did I ever function as one, but I learned what I needed from the professionals my aunt hired. Not everything, of course, but enough to run the place.
At a function while I was away at school someone wondered if I was ‘learning the trade’. My aunt quipped that I already knew it, neither confirming nor denying just what I was studying. The dry humor worked its way around the people present and seemed to settle most of their curiosity.
I was nothing more than ‘the daughter’ then. Their sole reason for asking in the first place was out of politeness, not because they were really interested. People have a peculiar way of seeing what they want to see and disregard that which does not interest them. They trust the people they think they know and whether I had a degree or not was never an issue. I’ve always thought it funny how that actually works if you play your cards right.
After graduation I had a choice; to start looking for work on my own, further my studies or take the job handed to me on a silver platter. I was young and didn’t know what I wanted so I took the job that would allow me a very nice apartment in the heart of Manhattan, a luxurious European car and a high, steady income.
Not that this was ever a true love for me. Fine art had its appeal, yes, but in the end, all this was really just what I knew best.
I stayed in New York for a few years, establishing my role within the company and networking with artists, collectors, other houses and museums. We had a couple of auction houses around the states at that time and a few smaller ones in France, Germany and Italy, but to our board of directors’ confusion, nothing in England.
When time came to open up another house I suggested we steer the company that way, and then picked up my life and followed. My aunt was more excited than I was at the time. I just wanted to see something new but she made it her last project before leaving to get me ready for taking over.
“If you can run one house, you can run all the directors running the other ones,” she had said with a shrug. It was delivered with such a nonchalant simplicity that I believed her and set out to do just that.
I had been with the London house just two years when she bid her farewell and left me in charge of the whole operation.
* * *
I stared at the thin curtain that hung lifeless across my window. It felt like it was mocking me, obscuring my view like an invisible veil keeping me from seeing something else; something that was there, just out of focus.
I had mixed feelings about the situation I now found myself in and didn’t like not being able to do anything about it. What I did for a living wasn’t something I would be absolutely devastated if I lost, but it was comfortable. I liked comfortable… It was simple and uncomplicated.
The prospect of having it all fall through my fingers because of an internet fling was not a very cozy feeling at all. Not to mention how on earth I would explain that to my family.
Very unenthusiastically, I reached for the receiver.“Hello?”
Roger Phillips, my go-to guy when it came to most things regarding the business and who I had dragged with me from the States, mumbled something inaudible before addressing me in his usual cheery manner.
“Hey, Avvie, you’ve got to get in here…”
“What is it, Roger?” I said slowly, making sure he would hear my lack of amusement by his happy mood and intrusion of my free time.
“There’s someone here.”
“And? You’re more than capable to handle a seller, Rog.”
“You were requested very specifically.”
I groaned internally and rested my head back on my pillow with a sigh. When I didn’t say anything, Roger went on.
“We had an overnight delivery. A collector wants to know the value of some paintings...”
“And you need me because?”
“They’re seventeen mid-15th century, gothic, Giovanni da Casentino paintings…”
I sat up straight as a rod. “Say what?”
“He’s interested in selling…” Roger let the sentence hang in the air.
“Who is this guy?”
“‘The Duke’ from West Country. Wexler’s the name.”
“The environment-guy?” I scrambled to get my reading glasses and yesterday’s newspaper from the nightstand.
“You’ve heard of him, then?” Roger’s voice drilled on over the line as I thumbed through the pages to get to the culture section.
I snorted as I found what I was looking for. “Who hasn’t?”
There he was, winning a gig race at some charity event. Sitting with both arms stretched high up in the air in a victorious cheer, he did not look his sixty-something years. Much like the other rowers on the six-oared scull, he was born of wealthy ancestors and old money, but he was a constant do-gooder that preferred to spend his millions where they were needed instead of sitting back, sipping on a whiskey old enough to have grandchildren and watching his capital grow larger in the bank.
For some reason that made me like the guy.
I had a slightly warped view of the rich and powerful since the only place I ran into such people was at the office. The vast majority of them liked to brag about their golf handicap, but I had always counted Richard Wexler as down to earth and ‘normal’. He was on the forefront of every debate concerning the welfare of the planet and he was affectionately dubbed the Duke of Avalon by the public despite not having anything to do with the noble families.
Oh, yes. I had heard of him.
He and his wife were well known collectors of Italian Renaissance oil paintings and their assortment was believed to be one of the biggest in Britain, if not Europe. They were constantly in trade publications for acquiring a new piece and their home in Glastonbury was often said to be a small private museum.
Selling a collection of theirs would bring headlines in all the right places and experts would review the auction house and its employees to an almost intrusive degree and it could be either a deathblow or a push beyond the stars, depending on what they found.
I knew then that my Sunday off had now been officially cancelled.
* * *
“Mm-hmm…” Roger murmured thoughtfully as he stepped back and forth in front of the large canvas before him. Occasionally he took a step forward, bending closer to the array of bright colors with an imperceptible adjustment of the glasses he used as magnifiers, only to step back once again with an involved expression on his face.
Three large shipping crates and one small one had arrived early this morning with a private express currier and they had been opened to expose the precious cargo inside. The paintings themselves stood lined up along the wall of the viewing room and while I went over the certificates of authenticity that had been included in the shipment, Roger had taken to admire the artwork.
With a delivery this big and valuable, it had drawn some attention so lining the room was several of our auctioneers, the apprentices, our in-house experts and reference specialists as well as a fair few of the other employees who had an interest in seeing such a remarkable collection.
Most of Giovanni da Casentino’s work could only be found scattered in museums or highly exclusive galleries. Seventeen pieces all being presented together in one single room was unusual.
Mr. Wexler, or ‘Duke’ as he insisted on being called, stood a few paces to the side of me and Roger. His eyes wandered from the expressive motifs to Roger’s limited pace to myself, then back to the artwork again.
I observed him as best I could with my peripheral vision but kept my attention mainly focused on the paperwork.
Everything seemed to be in order as far as I could tell so I handed the documents over to Harriet Browning, one of my assistants. She was more qualified for the assessment than I was so hearing her confirmation was always a good feeling.
She took the papers from me and left the room with an assurance that she would be back within a few moments. I nodded to the people present that my personal interest for the moment had been satisfied and that made them flock around Roger and the displayed paintings.
I stepped out of their way and to the back of the room, passing Duke on the way and gesturing for him to follow.
“I understand you are interested in putting these up for auction, not only learning their value,” I said as we got away from as many nosy ears as possible. “May I ask why?”
“Certainly,” he answered with a pleasant smile. His eyes twinkled underneath bushy white eyebrows.
Scratching his neatly trimmed beard, he studied me for a moment as if he knew something I didn’t. Either that or he knew what he was going to say would most likely shock or surprise me.
I seldom was affected that strongly by anyone, least of all the high and mighty, but there was no arrogance in his posture or voice and that was something you did not see too much of in this line of work.
“I have grown tired of them,” he said simply and I waited for him to continue but when he didn’t we fell into a comfortable silence.
The picture I had of him in my mind was what stood before me; a gentleman, as would be expected. He appeared to be an ordinary man, despite his money, which was always nice. I could tell I would enjoy working with him.
We stood observing one another in silence, sizing each other up before he finally gave in and averted his gaze. He hid it well by looking over to his paintings and gesturing with his hand before he spoke.
“How much do you think they will go for?”
“Hard to say at this point. Depends on who we’ll have on the floor as the gavel falls.”
He hummed his agreement. “They really are priceless, though. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Ah, yes. Quite,” I flashed him with my best professional smile before turning to watch the others gawk at the treasure we were being entrusted with. This certainly was the beginning of something huge.
“But if you were to hazard a wild guess?” he said charmingly, eyes twinkling again. “Go on, humor an old man.”
I didn’t have to chuckle politely, as was the unwritten policy for when a client cracked a joke. The reaction came by itself. I saw as Roger dislodged himself from the group of people and headed toward the same door Harriet had exited from earlier. He sought out my attention and his excited face spoke volumes.
“I think we’ll land somewhere around seven figures,” I said, confidant that Roger had a reason for his glee.
Duke had an indecipherable look swirling behind his eyes as he suddenly lowered them to the floor. It was evident that he was disappointed.
“A piece,” I clarified and he immediately perked up.
“Seven figures a piece? I see…” He rubbed his beard. “I see indeed… Now that’s a whole different story, now isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. I believe this might well be one of the highest sells in the history of the galleries, if I may speculate freely.”
“Ah, yes. You may, you may,” he nodded. “But none of that ‘sir’ business or didn’t I tell you that already?”
He pointed a warning finger at me for my slipup and grinned.
I laughed with him, “Yes, Duke, you did. My apologies.”
I loved it when I didn’t have to be formal with a seller. On some occasions it was a necessity, obviously, depending on who you had to deal with, but much to my delight, the Duke was not one of those people.
“That’s better.” He nodded. “Now, is there anything in particular you need from me or is it alright if I leave? I have a function to attend.”
“Please, go ahead. We have your contact information and will be in touch once the appraisal is done.”
“Excellent. I look forward to it.” He bowed slightly. “Good day, Ms Sands. It was a pleasure to finally meet you.”
I watched as he turned and left for the elevators. It wasn’t until Roger and Harriet came back that I registered the gleam in the duke’s eyes as he said ‘finally’.
* * *
When I got home that night I switched on my computer as usual to see if Sage was online. For some reason I wanted to tell her about my day and the likely future of the gallery, not so much caring about my previous quandary over her reaction to who I was.
She wasn’t on the Instant Messenger, but I did have an email from her.
I didn’t mean to run off like that before. Sorry.
I logged out without replying. There really wasn’t anything I could think of to say so why sit there and pretend like I did. I couldn’t very well reply and talk about the Duke without asking what was up and in some way I didn’t think I wanted to know. The email would still be there in the morning.
As my luck would have it though, she came online on the messenger and pinged me instantly.
What’s so important? I wondered as another message popped up.
I felt like a rotten piece of bacteria roaming around in a chunk of mucus, but I didn’t respond.
Chicken-shit, my internal voice said calmly. I could do nothing but agree and oddly that shut it up before it got started.
So I’m avoiding her now. Great. Just great. Like that will solve anything…
Just answer her, you slughead! The voice came back and I cringed.
ScribbleGirl: I’m… I’ll… Hell…
Why did I leave the messenger signed in and the status ‘online’? Why?
This is borderline evil, you know that right? Answer her!
Still, I did nothing.
“You have?” I exclaim aloud. If anyone’s being foolish it’s me!
My fingers itched to move as I stared at her words. It’d be so easy to strike down on the keys and type out the question so that she’d see it but I was strangely paralyzed.
A good twenty minutes passed without either of us making any further attempts at contact and then she logged off without saying goodbye. Fair enough trade, I thought, as I hadn’t even said hello.
* * *
An unsuspected knocking on my open office door interrupted me just as I had set teeth in an egg and cress sandwich from the small grocery store across the street. Maybe that was just as well, considering the effect they had on my intestines, but I still couldn’t help but buy them.
I looked up from the newspaper I was eying through and saw the Duke poke his head in.
“Mr. Wexler…” I mumbled around the mouthful of bread and mashed goo that somehow resembled eggs.
“Is this a bad time?” he asked and pointed to my lunch. “I can come back in a bit.”
I could have sworn I heard a whispered ‘no’ coming from my secretary outside and wondered why she hadn’t announced his arrival. I struggled to swallow and clear my throat.
“Not at all. Please come in, have a seat.” I wiped off my hands on a napkin and stood up to greet him. “What can I do for you?”
He strode over and we shook hands before he settled into one of the two antique chairs in front of my desk. The leather clad cushions creaked in protest under his weight as he made himself comfortable. He glanced out through the still open door as he straightened his sports jacket.
“Ms Sands… Avery,” he started. “There seems to be a small issue that needs to be dealt with.”
He looked at me very seriously and held me in his gaze for a little longer than I was comfortable with.
I forced a polite expression onto my face. “I see.”
This happened at times; sellers coming in to place their valuables up for auction and then changing their mind. They found a new appreciation for the items in question once they realized they would no longer have them in their possession and since no contracts had been signed yet and no catalogues had been printed, he was well within his right to withdraw his property.
I, on the other hand, saw the reviews we would have gotten for the sale fly out the window like a promise not kept.
Interestingly enough, it hit me then how much I had actually wanted the positive publicity. It stood in stark contrast to the prospect of receiving bad press, should the photo leak out, but the past couple of days my mind had been elsewhere to say the least and I had not thought of the two occurrences as being of the same medium.
The Duke eyed me carefully.
“I take it you would like to retract your request?”
“It really is not my call to make,” he said. “The art belongs to my daughter. She sent me.”
He nodded toward the door and as I looked over I saw that the frame was now partly filled by a person.
A person that was blonde… With sparkling, albeit slightly unsure, green eyes. And the cutest hint of a blush I had ever seen.
My mind raced for a coherent thought but all I could find was cobwebs and tumbleweeds dancing to the sound of crickets. I gaped in lack of anything intelligent to say.
The (temporary) End
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