Friday, January 3, 2014

Secret Identity

Photo by Christian Bauer via Wikimedia Commons
George Romero stood before the painting, feeling the sudden need for a bathroom. The woman in yellow stood behind his shoulder, hissing in his ear.

“She is such a visionary, my dear. The brushwork alone makes me want to tear my eyes out,” she said. Cigarette breath mixed with eye-watering perfume.

George twisted the cocktail napkin in his hands. The cardinal rule was to keep moving, but he had stopped. He had leaned against the wall to ease the burning in his legs from the countless circuits of the gallery and from a full twelve-hour shift on the factory floor earlier in the day. A moment's rest surely would be safe, he had thought, but the woman in yellow must have sensed he didn’t belong and pounced in his moment of weakness. 

“How much?” he asked, nodding at the painting.

She laughed. “Oh you had to ask, didn't you?” She sighed and glanced at the floor.

George looked down and plucked at his pant leg to better cover his steel-toed shoes. Why on Earth had he worn white socks? She was laughing at him. She would go back to the cluster of anorexics in their black dresses and mascara and have them all look at him with pity. They'd shame him right out of the place.

Then a thought struck him. He took in a deep breath and let it out, the same way he did on the factory floor when the engineer swore that the machine’s latest software fix had nothing to do with it suddenly spewing material all over the floor.

“I meant the price differential,” he said.

The woman in yellow stepped around and looked at him directly with her pale eyes. “I'm sorry dear, differential?”

“Yes.” he said, slowing down his speech. “What is the differential between the appraisal and the asking price?”

“Why do you want to know that?”

“Because every piece that I buy has to be ten or better. Anything less and I may as well be a charity.” Best to be deliberately vague and use jargon. Engineers would rather nod along with made-up nonsense than admit they didn’t know what you were talking about. Maybe it worked with curators in yellow dresses too.

“I see,” she said. She narrowed her eyes and drew her smile tighter. “We obviously can't have that. This particular piece is offered four thousand below appraised value, but we can negotiate on that.”

George felt his testicles shrink into his body. “Thousand?”

A confidant nod. “Thousand.” She began to turn away. Busted? He’d outwitted the best minds of the top three Polytechnics in the country. Maybe not all the time, but he had learned enough to have one more card to play. George lifted his chin and spoke a little louder.

“I'm talking points, not dollars,” he said. He didn’t know what the hell that meant, but he was willing to bet neither did the woman in yellow. He held his hand out to the painting. “As much as the color, brushwork, and all the rest is nice, certainly the joy of having it for yourself is knowing how undervalued others find it. If you’re just quoting prices, you’re missing the point.”

“I'm sure I don't follow.”

“If you did, your gallery would double its sales.” He said. He reached into his jacket pocket and handed her a card. “When you're serious about selling this piece and the next five of hers you have on commission, give me a call.”

He pushed past her, carefully blowing out until he was out of her perfume's range. He plucked a toothpick-skewered  melon ball and prosciutto appetizer from a passing hostess without breaking stride. “Mister Stepanski,” the curator called after him, but he kept walking until he was out of the gallery. He didn't stop until he was two blocks away. It had been a near thing, but he had eaten enough appetizers to replace dinner. The plastic bags in his pockets held enough cheese cubes and crackers for next week’s snacks at work. He'd have to cross the gallery off his list though, which was too bad. Their catering had the finest selection of cheese, plus champagne more often than not. Oh well, the doctor told him to watch his cholesterol anyway. Wasn’t the hospital holding a fundraiser ball next week? They put out a decent spread.

He would give a lot to see Stepanski's face when the dealer called him. Serve the engineer right: his last program change cost George and his crew two hours of down time, making them miss their monthly production goal (along with its five-dollar gas card). Never give the engineer an even break; it keeps them from getting into mischief.

George Romero walked down the street, looking for dessert.

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