Gary Beck, Flare Up
Publisher: Wordcatcher Publishing
Date: March 22, 2019
Length: 342 pages
ISBN: 1911265261; 978-1911265269
Ange was enrapt by the dance performance. Terry just saw a bunch of bodies hopping around. He watched her total absorption and it gave him a chance to study her. She was so beautiful that it took his breath away. He knew she was far more desirable than Victoria, but he made a mental note to make sure they never met, just to avoid complications. He was obviously going to have to be very careful not to offend Victoria, whose largesse could change his life. If she met Ange it might alienate her completely and he was not about to give up Ange. He would have to do a balancing act, somehow keeping Victoria happy without becoming her slave, while developing his relationship with Ange. This was a novel experience for him, juggling two exceptional women. He hoped he was up to the task.
During intermission, Ange asked if he was enjoying the performance. “This is the first time I’ve seen modern ballet. It’s sort of interesting.”
“We don’t have to stay if you don’t like it.”
“It’s not painful and maybe it’s an acquired taste. Besides, I can see that you love it.”
“I do. I always wanted to be a dancer. I started classical ballet when I was six, but I injured my knee when I was twelve and had to give it up.”
“That must have been a real disappointment.”
“It was. I missed it for a while. Then I got used to not killing myself daily to get more stretch and build skills. I work out regularly, but it’s not the grueling dance regimen that ruled my life from childhood. Now I can watch dance without feeling envy or frustration.”
Ange knew many attendees in the audience who were mingling in the lobby. She introduced him to a wide range of people who were so diverse that he couldn’t categorize them.
The second part of the program had the same effect as the first for both of them. Ange was completely involved. Terry looked at the dancers, but didn’t really see them. He kept thinking about his Dove. ‘What an exquisite little painting. What a gesture by Victoria.’ The experience of having someone give him something so valuable was unique. Part of him was outraged at getting a tip almost like a waiter, even if it may have been the biggest tip any waiter ever got. He wondered if he had been too matter of fact about it with her. ‘Should I have been more demonstrative? More appreciative?’ Another part of him thought: ‘Don’t sweat it. She seemed okay with it.’ He made a mental note to study Victoria more closely to better determine her likes and dislikes, and how she felt about him. There was no doubt that she was flirting with him, but it could just be the typical behavior of a beautiful woman who wanted attention. He reminded himself to be extremely cautious with her and to avoid getting involved in what could be a disastrous entanglement.
On their way out, Ange waved to friends and acquaintances, but didn’t stop to chat. She introduced him to one couple, Phil and Selena Carlton. “They’re very close friends and big art collectors. I’ll arrange something next week for you to get to know them.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you, Ange, but I’m interested in you, not your contacts.”
“What a sweet thing to say.” She stopped, pulled him to her and kissed him. He wanted to jump into her skin.
“I’ll have to keep saying sweet things, if that’s what I get.”
She smacked his hand playfully. “Don’t be so calculating. You’re doing fine.”
He suppressed a sprig of annoyance at her accurate comment.and smiled. “Nice to hear that.”
“We’re going to the Hard Rock Café on 57th Street. Would you like to walk, or take a cab?”
“Let’s walk,” he replied. “I like walking with you.”
She took his hand. “So do I.”
A wonderful feeling of togetherness came over them and without thinking, he slipped his arm around her shoulders and she slipped her arm around his waist. They moved in sync, shoulders and hips pressing against each other and they both felt the heat of their bodies building between them. Terry was aware of everything going on around him, but he was caught up in the delicious sensation of Ange that completely possessed him. He hoped the walk would go on and on. “How long do we have to stay there?” he asked, thinking about where they’d go later.
She smiled teasingly. “Are you in a hurry to get rid of me?”
“On the contrary. I want to be alone with you.”
“I think that can be arranged,” she said huskily. Even her voice turned him on. He felt like a pre-teen caught up in his first infatuation.
He knew the question of ‘your place or mine?’ would come up. At least he hoped it would. This imposed a dilemma. If they went to his place she would see the Dove. He was dying to show it to someone who would appreciate its beauty, and he was certain she would. He wasn’t sure what to tell her about how he got it. ‘Would she think he was a gigolo and despise him for taking it? Would she assume he was sleeping with his client? Would she be jealous?’ A flood of doubt surged through him and for a moment he wanted to hit her for distressing him. Then he repeated his mantra: ‘Calm. Calm. Calm,’ until he had full control of his feelings. ‘Why am I getting angry at her?’ he asked himself. ‘She didn’t do anything. Why would I want to hurt her?’ He forced himself to send away the angry thoughts that he had struggled all his life to control.
Somehow Ange sensed his inner turmoil and gently caressed his cheek. “It’s alright,” she murmured. “There’s no need to worry. Everything’ll work out. You’ll see.” Part of him was comforted by her kindness. Another part resented her perception and how easily she read him. He didn’t know how to respond, so he didn’t say anything. She moved closer to him as they walked, until he felt that they were moving as one. They got to 57th Street and the blazing bright lights of the club yanked them out of their too brief escape into each other. They walked past the waiting, impatient crowd who were urgent for admission and quick to detest anyone who passed the velvet barrier. Ange led him to the door guard, who nodded, smiled warmly, and opened the door for her.
“Have you been here before?” Terry asked.
‘Another place conquered,’ he thought. ‘How does she do it?’
The café was jumping to a blaring rock and roll beat that was keeping the customers happy. The alcohol was flowing liberally and the drugs were being consumed by many, just not as conspicuously as the booze. Ange led him backstage and no one questioned where she was going. Terry was beginning to accept that she could gain entry anywhere. He could just see her blithely traipsing into the Los Alamos nuclear facility without being challenged. “Alright. I’m a believer. You can just stroll in, whether they know you or not. Now explain how you knew where backstage was, if you’ve never been here before.”
“Easy. I’ve spent so much time in theaters that I can always find my way around.” That was the first weird thing she did that made sense to him.
Ange knocked on the dressing room door of ‘The Level Best’ and someone yelled: “Entrez, dude.” It was the singer and lead guitarist, Ian, virtually an icon to rock and roll fans, and a familiar face to those who followed the media items of his many trips to rehab with avid curiosity. “You must be Ange,” he croaked in the raspy, drug riddled voice that his fans adored. He hugged her and Terry felt an instant surge of dislike for him. “And who’s this, darlin’? The boyfriend?”
“This is Terry.”
“Well come in and meet the rest of the boys. That’s Peter with the drumsticks. Donal is the knobby one sprawled on the couch. Bertie is the toff in the corner. Welcome to our hovel away from home.”
“I know who all of you are,” Ange said. “I’ve been studying your photos day and night for the last week.”
“Well, how do we stock up in person?” Peter asked.
“So much nicer than photos.”
“Bloody marvelous,” Ian said.
Once again Ange had captured the beachhead without firing a shot. Donal sat up. “Sit here, you two and tell us how you came up with such a super idea.”
“Terry is my boyfriend, but he doesn’t work on the video....”
“Why not?” Peter demanded.
“Terry’s an art dealer.”
“That’s heavy,” Peter said. “Our Bertie is into art. Talk to him Bertie.”
“What do you deal in?” Bertie asked languidly.
“I specialize in American Art of the 50’s and 60’s.”
“Bloody expensive these days, aren’t they?”
“Yes. What do you collect?”
“Young British artists. Someone’s got to help their careers. I suppose they’re too avant garde for you?”
Terry would have cut him down to size for his snide remark, but he reminded himself: ‘he’s Ange’s client. Calm. Calm.’ Instead he said pleasantly: “I like several young British painters,” and he rattled off half a dozen names, including Malcolm Coopersmith.
Bertie interrupted him excitedly before he could finish. “I’ve got a Coopersmith. You’re alright. Have some dope.”
Terry declined and so did Ange, but it didn’t seem to disturb their hosts, who started passing a small silver bowl of coke around. Bertie had already formed a bond with Terry. “You don’t know many musicians, do you?”
“No. I’ve been pretty much involved in the art world since college, but of course I know your band. You’re world famous.”
“No rich musicians for clients?”
“No, Bertie. Not one.”
“What kind of clients do you have?”
“Very rich ones. They’re the only people who can afford the old masters.”
“I thought you said you dealt in American art of the 50’s and 60’s?”
“That’s right. They’re old masters now.”
“Gawan. You mean that Andy soup can is an old master?”
“It’s funny you mention that. A ‘Soup Can’ sold at Christie’s in London recently for 30 million pounds.”
“Cor. You think Coopersmith will be worth that someday?”
“We’ll find out someday, won’t we?”
Ian had been listening with growing impatience. “It’s all well and good for you refined types to go on about art, but we go on in ten minutes. Let’s hear from Ange about our video.”
“Thank you, Ian,” Ange said, “but I’m here for your input. You saw the rough cut. Is there anything you didn’t like? Anything I can improve?”
“You can make us look twenty years younger,” Peter quipped.
“Why? You’ve aged gracefully and you’re still full of vitality.”
“Even knobby old Donal?”
“You all look fine,” she insisted.
“I like this bird,” Donal crooned. “We’ve got to see a lot more of her.... And you too, Terry.” That didn’t make Terry feel less threatened by these famous Brits, who obviously were enchanted with Ange. He pictured their tour bus overturning, with everyone getting out, except the potential rival four.
Ange may have sensed his reaction, because she said: “Terry and I have to go now. Let Arnie know if you want any changes and I’ll take care of it.”
“Aren’t you staying for the show?” Peter asked plaintively.
“We have to go now. I’ll talk to you soon,” and she blew them a kiss and led Terry out.
Willi greeted Victoria effusively and his persistent mouth only reluctantly released its suction on her hand to greet his other guests. They went directly to the second floor, walked through each room and Victoria looked at some of the art at great length, while just glancing at others. Terry stopped several times to stare at a museum quality Velasquez, a spectacular Titian and an exquisite Vermeer, all juxtaposed next to more mundane masters. By the time they reached the third floor her concentration was fading and she just skimmed through the rooms, only occasionally pausing at something that particularly caught her eye. Terry was also reaching the art saturation level, when he noticed an incredible drawing and had to look closer. It was a Leonardo Da Vinci ‘Study of a Horseman’, almost submerged by the surrounding etchings and drawings by Whistler, Hopper, Marin and Morisot. Willi was too busy studying Victoria’s framing to be aware of Terry’s interest in the Leonardo and he briefly wondered how anyone could acquire such remarkable art and display it so haphazardly.
He thought the Leonardo would make a splendid gift for Andrew and when Willi left to take a phone call, he beckoned to Victoria. “Come take a look at this, Vicki.”
She looked at the drawing for a moment. “It’s very nice. What’s so special about it?”
“It’s by Leonardo Da Vinci.”
“The Mona Lisa Leonardo?”
“Yes, Does Andrew have a birthday coming up soon?”
“July 20th. Why?”
“This might make a very special present for him.”
She took a longer look at the drawing. “He does love the Renaissance and he doesn’t have a Leonardo. What do you think it’ll cost?”
“Two million. Five million. Whatever Willi asks. Very few come on the market. Talk to him about it. Tell him why you want it. He may not value it any more or less than the rest of the collection.”
“Do other collectors jam the walls with their art like this?”
“Not quite like this, but some of them are very anal.” Victoria and Antoinette giggled. Even Tommy smiled.
Willi returned and Victoria began indirectly. “We were admiring this Leonardo drawing.”
Willi peered at it. “It’s nice. I got it a long time ago.”
“My husband loves the Renaissance and he has some fine examples.”
“I know. He has a superb Raphael.”
She concealed her surprise. “He doesn’t have a Leonardo. I want to give him something special for his birthday. Would you consider selling it to me?”
“I might.... Under one condition.”
“You invite me to see the Raphael.”
She didn’t hesitate. “We’d be delighted to have you join us for dinner, then see the Raphael.”
“Then I’ll be pleased to sell you the Leonardo. I bought it for $50,000 at an auction in Switzerland, but that was in the 60’s. It’s worth a lot more than that now. How about $500,000?”
She flicked a glance at Terry, who nodded yes. “Gladly. May I give you a check and take it with me?”
“Don’t you want to negotiate the price?” he asked in surprise.
“No. You’ve been quite gracious.”
Antoinette wrote the check, Victoria signed it and handed it to Willi and Terry carefully took the Leonardo off the wall. They started to leave, but Willi insisted that she see his “underground art.” She could hardly refuse after his generosity and they followed his still nimble body downstairs. For the most part the art was sedate, traditional nudes, spiced with some racy paintings by Picasso and other masters. She stopped, suddenly transfixed, in front of a small nude that virtually leaped off the canvas at her.
“Oh. That’s beautiful. It’s electrifying. Who’s the artist?”
“Modigliani,” Willi and Terry said simultaneously.
“I love it. Will you sell it to me?”
“A beautiful painting for a beautiful woman,” Willi crooned. Will you pay a million dollars for it?” She looked at Terry, who nodded vigorously.
They went through the same transaction ritual and as they prepared to depart, Victoria said: “Thank you, Willi. You delighted two collectors today, even if one doesn’t know it yet. We are going to London on Tuesday for several weeks, so if you care to dine with us this weekend, we’ll be pleased to have you. Otherwise, as soon as we get back.”
“Food is not a major appetite of mine. I will wait until you return and anticipate the Raphael.” His farewell kiss of her hand lingered on and on, but she endured it, smiling radiantly.
When they were in the car, Antoinette said with a throaty chuckle: “I thought his condition would be for you to at least suck his toes, Madame.”
They all burst into laughter and Victoria replied mock rebukingly: “A typical Frenchwoman’s thinking. He’s a German. That means he’d want me to march naked for him, only wearing jackboots.” They laughed the rest of the way to her building.
They hung the Modigliani in her bedroom and stood admiring it. “That’s the painting you wanted me to see, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I knew it was for you.”
“Should I have bargained with him over prices? I might have gotten them for less.”
“You just got the buy of the 21st century. I don’t know much about Leonardo, but it must be worth ten or twenty times what you paid. The Modigliani would probably bring four to five million at auction, maybe more.”
“It felt strange, dealing with him that way. Not businesslike.”
“Collecting is a love affair, not business. A private collector has to be dealt with in a personal way and you did an exemplary job. You can be businesslike at galleries or auctions. You did great.”
“You really think so?” she asked, pleased.
“Will I be ready for the London auctions?”
“Sure. We’ll have plenty of time to prepare and you’re ready with the most important quality, confidence.”
Andrew rushed in and stopped in his tracks, arrested by the Modigliani. “That’s a spectacular painting.” He darted forward and inspected it closely, then moved back and gazed appreciatively. “Congratulations, my dear. That’s a wonderful acquisition. You are a true collector, though it’s not Pop Art,” he added teasingly.
“The instant I saw it I had to have it. I’m beginning to understand how you feel about art.”
“Maybe I’ll even convert you to liking the old masters someday.... Thank you for your efforts, Terry.”
“A pleasure, sir. Victoria makes it fun.”
“She makes my life fun.”
“Oh, Andy. You are the best husband in the whole world. I was going to give you this on your birthday, but I can’t wait. Here. Happy husband day,” and she handed him the Leonardo.
He took it casually, looked, looked again, and a huge smile spread over his face. “By Rockefeller’s balls. It’s a Leonardo Da Vinci.”
Victoria and Terry stood there silently as he lovingly devoured the drawing. He abruptly turned. “How did you get it? Where did you get it? No galleries or auction houses have offered Leonardos. Is it authentic? Am I babbling?”
“Just a little, dear. We got it from Willi Krupp.”
“That old pirate? He wouldn’t even let me see his collection, let alone buy something. How did you do it?”
“Terry arranged it and I negotiated with him,” she said with a straight face.
“Well I’ll be damned,” and he rushed out, tightly clutching the Leonardo.
“Thank you, Terry. That made everything we did worthwhile. I’ll be busy the next few days, but I’ll send the car for you Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m. I’ll try to look through the catalogs between now and then. Can I call you if I have any questions?”
“I’ll have Antoinette make out a check for you.”
“Ask her to make it out to Crannick Fine Arts.”
She kissed him on the cheek and he controlled the urge to put his arms around that delicious body. Antoinette led him out and he waited until he was on the street to look at the check for $150,000. And the lucrative week wasn’t over yet.
Copyright © 2018 by Gary Beck