This past winter I entered a writing contest. A winner was finally chosen last week, and they very much deserved it. The contest was sponsored by the website words & brushes. They collaborate with artists and writers by having the writers form a story about a selected piece of art. Their goal is to eventually publish a book with all winning collaborations. Although my submission was not selected; it’s still a wonderful concept that I would love to see succeed. I had a great time writing my submission piece and would like to share it here. The artwork I chose to create a story about was “A Stolen Moment” by Marjory Sime.
Rogue in Rouge
“Wear a red dress.” His last text said. Red was not a good color choice for a woman who was trying to be discreet. I didn’t even know if I had anything red in my closet, let alone a dress. My typical wardrobe is always black from head to toe. On rare occasion I may throw in some navy to shake things up, but not too often.
Augustin Martinez is hosting his first art show tonight in his new gallery. I am to be his date. I am also to be doing my regular job at the same time. I have no idea how I’m going to pull this off. Being a private investigator isn’t normally a glamourous job. I spend most of my days and nights hiding in bushes, sneaking around buildings, and ducking under things deliberately trying to not be seen. Tonight I would not be hidden away in dark shadows, I would be on Augustin’s arm and the center of everyone’s attention. Being his date meant putting on all the glitz and glamour I could muster.
This art gallery is a huge deal for my little city. We have never had anything of the sort before. We usually only bring in businesses along the lines of farming supply stores, and big box discount stores having a new art gallery was a nice change of pace. This little city finally had some culture thanks to Augustin. This is small time for him though. His works have been displayed in New York, London, Paris, and other cities all over Europe. Why he decided to open a fine art gallery here in Middle-Of-Nowhere America was beyond me.
Augustin contacted me after seeing my ad in the local newspaper. I’ve been a private investigator for over 15 years. My experience mostly lies in tracking down cheating spouses, and photographing them in compromising situations. I’ve spent more nights of my life in sleazy strip clubs and airport bars than I care to count. A huge percentage of the city council men’s wives have been my previous clients. I wish I could say that I make my customers happy, but no one is happy when you hand them a picture of their significant other with another woman (or man in one of my more interesting cases.) I am damn good at what I do though, they always get what they pay for.
My profession is fairly simple; I stay in the background, keep myself unnoticed, follow a slimy guy around for a week or two, snap some incriminating photos, hand them over to his wife, and then collect my cash. I wasn’t so sure Augustin’s task for me would be this simple, or even achievable, but he paid me upfront, and even more than my standard fee. I was committed to do my best work for him, even under these unusual circumstances he had put me.
As scheduled a black town car pulled up outside my home promptly at 8 p.m. In the spirit of being discreet I asked that he not send a limo, or anything else that might be flashy. He obliged, it even had tinted windows. In the few times I had spoken to him leading up to this evening he had been nothing but polite, and as accommodating as possible. I knew he had another, not so nice side to him though.
Before Augustin came to the states he was fairly well known and successful in Europe until his show in Prague. The disaster that occurred there drove him into hiding for seven years. He stopped doing interviews and making public appearances. He stopped working and didn’t create a single new piece in that time. He secretly relocated to New York City and picked up the brush again. Instead of the beautifully scenic portraits of quaint cities and cobblestone streets he was known for, his art turned dark and personal. His first show in New York unveiled two new paintings. One was a grisly pile of bloody bodies, the other was a beheaded nude woman. The exhibit did not garner rave reviews, but it did attract quite a bit of media coverage. When reporters asked “Why such a drastic change in style?” Augustin simply replied with “When a man’s heart breaks, his art breaks.” That’s still the only comment he’s made on the subject. New York was three years ago and he hadn’t done another interview or show until tonight. Three new paintings are planned to make their debut tonight. The two shock pieces from New York will be displayed as well. I’m not sure how this tiny city will react. I’m not even sure what my role for this evening is either, I just know I’m getting paid nicely to stand beside the man that created such things.
“Mr. Martinez, how are we this evening?” I said sliding into the back of the sleek car.
“Hello Miss. Morrow. You look lovely, thank you for joining me.” He barely parted his lips to smile.
“Thank you. The pleasure is all mine, but what exactly is my task? You weren’t very clear in why you were hiring me.”
“Miss. Morrow I trust you looked into my professional and personal history…”
“Of course I did. What I found was brief, but interesting. You became very elusive.”
“What I request of you this evening Miss is your beautiful, yet keen eyes. Stand beside me at all times, appear to be someone I have a romantic relationship with, but keep a look out for this woman.” He handed me a photo of another blonde. She was beyond beautiful.
“What am I do if or when I spot her?”
“You are to let me know. She won’t make a scene. She most likely will sneak in and out trying not to be seen. You are just to inform me of her presence.”
“Is she a threat to you? Will she come alone? Do you want photos taken? There has to be something more you need to me to do.”
“No, that’s it. She’s not dangerous, she more than likely will be by herself, and not there for long. All I need you to do is be my date and my eyes for the evening, please.”
People were already in line outside the gallery when we pulled up. Augustin greeted people and shook a few hands. I just kept my elbow linked in his and smiled through my teeth. All of these people were going to be distracting, I wasn’t used to doing my job in the open around others. I also wasn’t used to being the subject of photos, I was usually the one behind the camera. I’ve never had so many photos taken of me at one time. Flashes were everywhere I turned. The peculiar thing about a photograph is that it can capture either a moment of a wonderful event or evidence that could ruin someone’s life. My experience in photography usually lends itself to the latter. Photographs of Augustin’s personal life seemed to do the same.
Images from the prague show still littered the internet. They were the first thing to show up in a search of his name, even before his amazing artwork. I am very familiar with similar photos. I made a career of taking such photos, and I made good money doing so.
Augustin’s former lover Penelope was in almost every shot from that night. Her and her new, secret lover that Augustin was clueless about. They were caught making out in a gallery hallway during the exhibition. That wasn’t even the most expressive part of the evening. Augustin all but lost his mind when he saw them together. He ripped all of his paintings off of the wall in a fit of rage. He was absolutely crushed; and by the looks of his new paintings displayed tonight he still hadn’t recovered.
The newest additions to his gruesome collection were far worse than the beheaded girl. Next to these bloody, disemboweled figures on display tonight she looked as wholesome as the Mona Lisa. People were shocked, yet fascinated. As offputting as the new paintings were, patrons were still congratulating Augustin and telling him how wonderful they found them to be. It was difficult to be on his arm all evening listening to all the praise. I tried to focus on what he was paying me to do. Three hours in and I still hadn’t spotted the girl in the photo he had given me.
I knew I recognized the woman in the photo, and it had taken me most of the those three hours to figure where I knew her from. It was Penelope. Besides seeing her in all of the scandal photos from Prague, her face was plastered all over this very room too. It was her gorgeous face on every dead body he had painted.
“Miss Morrow, have you spotted the subject yet this evening?”
“You mean besides her face being splattered all over your canvases? No I haven’t see her.”
“Ahh, so you noticed.”
“It’s my job to notice things, and subtlety doesn’t seem to be a strong suit for you.”
“I suppose you are correct. She destroyed me. My only wish is to destroy her just the same.”
“That certainly explains the beheaded and disemboweled portraits then.”
“I would never physically harm her, or anyone else for that matter. I’m just in a lot of pain and it’s the best way I can express myself.”
“So why hire an expensive private investigator and have her dress like a bombshell just to look for a girl that broke your heart?”
“I was waiting for you to ask that. Rumor has it she made an appearance at my New York exhibit. I just didn’t want to miss her this time around. I don’t wish to speak to her by any means. I just want to see the hurt on her face that I hope my portraits would inflict. And if my artwork didn’t do the job I was also hoping that seeing someone as attractive as you on my arm would.”
“So you wanted me to be noticeable and for my attire to stand out.”
“Exactly Miss Morrow, That’s the precise reason I requested that you wear red.”
The exhibit was coming to an end near midnight. I still hadn’t spotted Penelope anywhere. I thought it was strange that she had shown up in New York. I don’t understand why a woman clearly in love or at least infatuated with another man would fly to another continent just to anonymously show up at an ex-lover’s art show. It’s even stranger and sadder that he expects her to show up at this one as well. I kept watching all the entrances and the corners of the room. I never once saw a woman that resembled Penelope. My fear was that Augustin would be disappointed if she didn’t make an appearance. He seemed to only be doing this exhibit to draw her in.
Despite all of the surprising compliments Augustin’s artwork received this evening he didn’t look happy; but then again, how happy could a man that paints murderous portraits of his ex-lover ever actually look? I wanted to see him happy though, or at the very least pleased. In spite of it all this was his big night and he didn’t deserve to be disappointed by her again. I was doing my job at the best of abilities but I felt like I was failing. It just wasn’t possible that I could have missed her. I wasn’t even drinking the champagne in the flute that I carried around all night. It was only to keep up with appearances, just to add to the make believe story that I was only Augustin’s date.
When the last patron left Augustin stood in the middle of the gallery looking like a boy who’s puppy just got hit by a speeding car. He could not hide the despair on his face. In all reality he was just a sensitive man that had never recovered from a broken heart. As pitiful as he looked in that moment I didn’t pity him, but I did emphasize with him. I too have previously been a scorned lover. I understood Augustin on that level, I used my pain to further my career as well. It’s honestly the whole reason I even became a private investigator.
“Hey handsome, are you ready to get out of here?” I walked up to Augustin and linked my arm into his again.
“She never showed up did she?”
“No, she didn’t. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s just as well.”
I lead us out of the gallery. At the top of the stairs I had a full view of the surrounding grounds. I spotted a taxi parked across the street. It couldn’t have been waiting for a guest, everyone else was already gone except Augustin and I. I kept my eye on the cab as we made our way down the stairs. About midway down I was able to make out the passenger in the backseat. She was as blonde as she was beautiful, and her eyes were fixed on us. I knew instantly that it was Penelope.
I had to act quickly. My only instructions for this assignment were to let Augustin know of her presence. My every instinct went against the job description. I needed to do something more drastic. The entire evening his whole focus was to devastate her. Just letting him know that she watching didn’t seem to me like it would have any effect on her. I made sure she was still watching through the cab window. I grabbed Augustin’s tie and pulled his body close to mine. I kissed him as hard and deeply as I possibly could. Mid-kiss I opened my left eye, and peeked through the thick false eyelashes just in time to see the yellow cab speed away. Augustin pulled away from me somewhat dumbfounded.
“Miss Morrow, My apologies if I’ve misled you on what this evening was truly about.”
“Not at all. I’m just doing what you asked me to do Mr. Martinez. Did you see that yellow cab across the way?”
“I did. Do yellow cabs excite you in some fashion?”
I laughed. “Not at all. Penelope was inside of it. “
“Did she see that?”
“I believe so.”
“Then you have successfully made my evening.” He smiled for the first time all night.
He wants to kill me. Hell, I can’t blame him, I did so wrong by him. He has every right to feel that way. We had been on the rocks for months prior to the Prague show. I had started drinking early that day after intense argument with Augustin. It’s no excuse and I can never take back the events that happened that evening, or any mistake I had made regarding us. I live with regret almost every single day. Augustin truly is a good man, and an incredibly talented artist. I just couldn’t see what I had when I had it. I completely and utterly destroyed him. I have spent years trying to find a way to apologize to him ever since. Every time I have gone to say “I’m sorry” I have backed out. I’ve been such a coward.
I’ve faced my fear of flying. I’ve even crossed the damn Atlantic Ocean by plane, but I can’t bring myself to face Augustin. I went to New York with plans to speak to him, to apologize, and rekindle the love we once knew. I ended up choked up and hiding in the shadows all night. I stayed on the opposite side of the room actively avoiding him the whole time.
Judging by the portraits that very much resembled me Augustin still was still angry. I ran out of that gallery as quickly as I came in. I prayed he didn’t notice me; He had a new blonde on his arm so he probably didn’t. I traveled thousands of miles just to speak to this man, only to end up hiding out in the back of a cab. I had practiced what I wanted to say over and over again. On the long flight and the hour long cab ride to reach this podunk town I had plenty of time to go over the words. I practiced aloud in the cab and probably sounded like a crazy person. I edited my apology millions of times trying to pick out the perfect words and phrases. I wasn’t sure that anything I said could ever be enough for the pain that I had caused.
The cab arrived at the gallery at 9 P.M. It’s almost 1 A.M. and I’ve just sat in this back seat almost the entire time. The driver agreed to wait as long as I was paying. He ended up falling asleep anyways. I wanted very much to walk through the entire exhibit, but something about seeing your own face on dismembered bodies is a bit off putting. I’ve just been sitting in the back seat for hours watching people come and go. I didn’t see Augustin in the brief time that I was inside. I wondered if he had a date. I’m sure he did. The prettiest girl in this town no doubt; He would accept nothing less.
Patrons started to fill the streets a half hour after midnight. The driver snored loudly while I stared at the gallery doors. The clock kept ticking and I was up to $300. An hour and a half later Augustin walked out the door. He was just as handsome as ever. Regret filled my entire body and my eyes filled with tears. I wanted nothing more than to jump out of this car and run into his arms.
Then she walked out. A beautiful blonde in a stunning red dress. She followed him right out the gallery doors. I tried my hardest not to hate her, but then she pulled him close for the most passionate kiss I had ever witnessed. My tears multiplied. It was clear that he was completely over me. I would have rather looked at a thousand beheaded, disemboweled portraits of me than to look at those two embracing. I couldn’t stand it a second longer.
“Wake up! Wake up!” I pounded on the cabby’s headrest. “Get me out of here, now!”
The driver startled awake and drove sped me off down the street. I sobbed the entire way back to the airport. Seeing Augustin kiss whoever she was ripped my heart entirely out.