“Do you know who that is?” Georgie whispered to her sister who shook her head, enjoying the spectacle as she happily bit into a vanilla Petit Four. “That’s Ronan Wells.” “Who’s he?” Aleta asked.
“Exactly. The only reason I know of him is because he sat in on the figure drawing class I took last summer. I try not to bad mouth other artists but…. well…. see for yourself.” Georgie lifted her chin at the man struggling on the floor. “His artwork is about as good as his ability to walk a straight line right now.”
“Sure, don’t help or anything” Ronan yelled sarcastically as he struggled to regain his balance, reaching
to pull himself up using a leg of a mortified guest wearing a long skirt who just kicked him away. “Don’t help a man who tripped on a poorly laid down carpet!” The floor was all hardwood. “I should sue.”
Murmurs and snickers moved through the room. His name circulated in whispers with a hint of pity and annoyance.
“What’s the problem, Nate?” Ronan was on one knee with his arms out to the side as if he were balancing on a tightrope. “My work should be here. This stuff…. this stuff is a joke. I live and breathe…. literally live and breathe my art!”
“All right.” Jamal stomped up to the floundering drunk, reached down and lifted him to his wobbly feet with one clean jerk. “That’s enough, Ronan.”
“Get your hands off me!” Ronan snapped his arm away almost hurdling himself to the floor again.
“You’re nothing but Nate’s sugar-daddy.” He spat at Jamal. Ronan was sweating. His brown hair was clinging in dark veins to his forehead and his pork chop sideburns shone with perspiration. “He wouldn’t have this crappy place if it weren’t for his frat brother bailing him out. Telling him how to spend his money. What artists he can and can’t have. The whole place is a joke!”
“You’re out of here.” Jamal grabbed Ronan by the scruff of the collar and pushed him toward two security musclemen.
“I’ll be back! I’ll burn this place to the ground! I’ll burn this place and every single one of you inside!” He struggled but the two men were too strong.
Georgie stepped back from the scuffle, thinking it resembled a child having a temper tantrum in the middle of a church service and being yanked out by his father.
“I’ll kill you, I swear to God!” were the last words Nate, Jamal, and any of the guests heard before the door slammed shut. One bouncer returned. The other was obviously helping Ronan find a cab and probably a fist in the face as well.
“Are we locked in here?” Aleta asked, stretching her neck toward the heavy, vault-like door. “If Ronan makes good on his promise to set fire to this place and that heavy door is locked I’ll never forgive you.”
Georgie shook her head. “It isn’t locked. What kind of an art gallery has a door that locks from the outside? Besides.” She pointed toward the windows where they could see the skeletal frame of the fire escape. “Now calm down.”
Aleta let out a deep breath and shoved a brownie in her mouth.
“I’m going to refill my plate. Want me to bring you back something?”
“Yes. Surprise me.” Georgie stared in Nate’s direction as her sister turned and hurried back to the sweet table.
“Gosh,” Georgie muttered to no one in particular as she watched the man in the red scarf nodding and shaking hands with the words I’m sorry coming from his mouth over and over again, “with all that excitement Nate’s got a bigger crowd around him now than he did before, I’ll never get to talk to him at this rate.”
“You’re trying to get to Nate?” came a scratchy female voice next to Georgie. She looked to find staring at her an attractive older woman with silver hair pulled back tightly into a bun. Her forehead was huge and her eyes were set too close together. But it was hard to focus on her eyes when the brightness of the gold she was wearing around her neck was just a shade less than that of the sun. “Unless you approach him with your pocketbook wide open, you’ll never get to him.”
“I’m sorry?” Georgie shook her head.
“Beg your pardon.” The woman chuckled. “Just letting the champagne do too much of the talking. Iris Fitske.” She extended her jewel-covered hand to Georgie who shook it firmly.
“Georgie Kaye.” She smiled.
“What do you do, Georgie Kaye?” The woman sounded like a female version of the millionaire on the old television show, Gilligan’s Island.
“I’m an artist. Nate invited me to the show to discuss having my pet portraits displayed. I mean, I doubt it would be any kind of big deal like this but it would be a start and….”
“Pet portraits.” Iris looked everywhere but at Georgie, as if she were scouting for something better to come along. “That sounds interesting. Well, if Nate sees potential then you must be pretty good. How much are you selling your work for? I might like to obtain a piece before you become rich and famous and out price all the people who knew you when.” The woman snickered as if she were so witty. Georgie was starting to find her annoying.
Aleta returned to her sister’s side. “I nearly had to wrestle some beatnik for the last lemon torte,” she confessed, taking a bite from the small dish piled high with sweets.
“Iris Fitske. My sister Aleta.”
Aleta started to cough and choke on the torte. Guzzling down the last of her champagne she regained her composure and smiled.
“Sorry. Went down the wrong pipe.” She shook Iris’s hand quickly then turned and looked around behind her.
“Well, I’m not really selling any of my work now,” Georgie continued. Her gut was telling her to tread lightly.
“Oh, you’re not.” Iris suddenly became irate. “You’re not selling your work right now or you’re not selling your work to me?” She turned and looked at Nate. “He’ll pay. For all the money I’ve spent in this place, he’ll pay.” She returned her focus to Georgie, her close-set eyes narrowing to slits. “And you just might, too.” Without another word, Iris Fitske stomped off.
“What in the world was that all about?” Georgie shook her head and shrugged her shoulder before handing Aleta her champagne glass to hold while she took the pastry plate. They had been handing off to one another all night. It was a trick they had done since childhood.
“I don’t believe it!” Aleta hissed. “Of all the places to run into that lunatic.”
“You know Iris Fitske? How do you know her and I don’t? Who is she?”
Aleta rolled her eyes and took another sip of champagne.
“Iris Fitske is an art collector. She’s also like the Elton John of the Chicago finance world.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean she looks like she’s worth a lot, right? She puts on a good show but the truth is she might be rich on paper but that woman can’t buy a stick of gum without providing three forms of identification, a bank statement, and at least three credit references. She is quite literally broke. But she refuses to believe it. You know, like Elton John. He has to keep working because he spends more than he makes.”
“And you know all this how?” Georgie picked out a mini chocolate éclair from the plate and took a bite.
“Emily had dealings with her.” Aleta nodded her head knowingly. Her daughter Emily had taken over the management of Kaye & Associates, the accounting firm founded by her parents, after her mother retired from the business. “She told me that a woman named Iris Fitske came into the firm and wanted an immediate transfer of funds, trusts, credit, everything including the kitchen sink from BNY Mellon Wealth. She wanted it done in an hour and expected Emily to extend her a temporary line of credit immediately.”
“Iris does seem like a woman who wants what she wants when she wants it.” Georgie mused.
“So, when Emily told her no, well, you saw what she did to you. Multiply that by about a hundred. That was how she talked to Emily. They called security but she walked out on her own pair of Jimmy Choos, climbed into the back seat of her Bentley, and that was that.”
“Wow.” Georgie shrugged. “If she would have been nicer I would have gladly given her a picture for free.”
“A person like that doesn’t know how to handle a nice gesture, Georgie. She’s so used to buying her own way and people doing everything for her that she’d think you were being intentionally mean to her. What a world, right?”
“Maybe she was conditioned to think that way. When you have a lot of money you have to be careful.”
“Georgie, a woman like that was always a snob. She lived her life thinking money made her better than everyone else. And she’ll die that way clinging to her designer sheets instead of her family’s hands, and requesting to be buried wearing all her jewelry.” Aleta shook her head and frowned.
“He’s free!” Georgie quickly changed her attitude. “Nate is free. Come on. Let’s go talk to him.”
As delicately as a bulldog at its water bowl, Georgie pulled Aleta across the floor to the man with the red scarf.
“Excuse me, Nate?” Georgie grinned as she tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, and with the same sleepy look as the receptionist, waited for more information. “I’m Georgie Kaye. You left me a message about….”
“Yes. About your pet portraits,” he interrupted, the right corner of his mouth curling up slightly. “I’m so glad you could make it this evening. I must apologize for the scene that took place.” He raised both of his hands, palms up.
“Oh, no,” Georgie soothed. “My gosh, my sister and I make bigger scenes just doing our grocery shopping together. That was nothing.”
“I absolutely fell in love with your portraits,” Nate admitted. “They are slightly different from some of the work we usually show but I think it would be a fun change. Plus, when an artist has talent, well, there is no denying that.”
“You think I have real talent?” Georgie’s back straightened and her shoulders squared.
“I do.” Nate gave her a wink.
“So, when can Georgie expect a showing? What will the commission be on sales? What will the duration of the show be? How do you normally handle publicity?” Aleta jumped right in making Georgie’s cheeks flush red.
“Look, why don’t you come by first thing tomorrow. The gallery will be open at ten. We can go over all the options and you can bring your lawyer, of course.”
“Oh, she’s not my lawyer. She’s my twin sister, Aleta.”
Nate made no effort to hide his surprise as he looked Aleta up and down and then studied Georgie in the same manner.
“Well, you’re both welcome.” He extended his hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow at ten o’clock sharp. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think we need more champagne.” With another wink, he turned and walked away to speak quietly with Jamal.
“I can’t believe this,” Georgie gushed as she squeezed her sister’s hand. “Are you ready to go? That was all I needed to do, really.”
“Sure, let’s fill our purses with the last of the desserts and get going.” As they passed by Nate and Jamal as they were talking, Georgie heard a name mentioned that was very familiar to her.
“Laney Chung is a hack. I told you it was bad to mix business with pleasure and now we’re stuck constantly putting out fires.”
Georgie arched her eyebrows in interest but she kept walking. Anyone calling Laney Chung a hack had to have some serious issues with her. She was considered one of the most brutally honest art critics in Chicago. Georgie had read many of her reviews in the paper. She did think she was unnecessarily harsh in some reviews. But it was obvious from her statements that she knew her artists and she knew artistic techniques. She was anything but a hack.
The sisters not so discreetly stuffed their purses with as many of the dainty desserts as possible and then headed for the door. It was mere seconds before they were street level again, climbing into Pablo who sputtered and barked to life the way most vintage Volkswagen Bugs did.
“What an exciting evening,” Georgie yawned. “But I am totally beat. These little pastries will make an excellent breakfast tomorrow.”
“I agree.” Aleta looked at her watch and yawned herself.
As they drove to the neighborhood where they lived, referred to as Little Vietnam, on Chicago’s far north side they relived the evening’s highlights.
“I overheard someone say that Otto Reinholt made an appearance,” said Georgie. “But I missed him – did you see him?”
“Who is that?”
“The old, rich eccentric, who lives above the gallery. He’s the guy kids tell ghost stories about, even though he’s among the living.”
“You know, I did see an old man that looked out of place while you were in the bathroom. He was elbowing his way through the crowd like he was in a hurry, but the poor old dear was moving at a snail’s pace.”
“So, it’s true. I did miss seeing him.” Georgie said. “He’s such a recluse I may never have another chance. Bummer!”
As they watched the city rush by the car windows, the sisters fell into a silence that the two sisters were comfortable in, somehow growing closer within it, without even talking. Finally, they arrived home.
“Tomorrow, you’re coming with me, right?” Georgie asked as she climbed out of the car and slammed the door shut. From inside the house she could hear her dog, Bodhi the vicious, teeth-bearing, fear-nothing pug as he barked his warning.
“Oh, yes,” Aleta said as she got out of her side of the car. “It ought to be interesting, to say the least.” She walked across the driveway to the side entrance of the traditional bungalow house that was an architectural staple throughout the Midwest. The bushes were trimmed neatly, not too fancy, with a lawn in the front yard and three wrought iron flowerpots bursting with red and purple flowers.
“Good night!” Georgie yelled as she went up the front steps to the identical bungalow house next door. Identical except for the yard, where Georgie had dozens of rosebushes, each producing a different colored bloom, a shark head emerging from the grass, two stone Foo Dogs guarding her stoop, a red gazing ball, half a dozen wind chimes hanging from the gutters, and birdfeeders on tall curly-cue stakes in the ground.
“Congratulations, again, Georgie,” Aleta called from her stoop. “That Nate guy is smart to show your drawings.”
“Thanks, Aleta. We’ll be over in the morning.”
Both doors opened and shut with a slam. Aleta’s home was quiet while Georgie talked with Bodhi, telling him about the evening.