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by Edmond Manning
Category: Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: In a trendy San Francisco art gallery, out-of-towner Vin Vanbly witnesses an act of compassion that compels him to make investment banker Perry Mangin a mysterious offer: in exchange for a weekend of complete submission, Vin will restore Perry's "kingship" and transform him into the man he was always meant to be. Despite intense reservations, Perry agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that will test the limits of his body, seduce his senses, and fray his every nerve, (perhaps occasionally breaking the law) while Vin guides him toward his destiny as "the one true king." Even as Perry rediscovers old grief and new joys within himself, Vin and his shadowy motivations remain enigmas: who is this offbeat stranger guiding them from danger to hilarity to danger? To emerge triumphant, Perry must overcome the greatest challenge alone: embracing his devastating past. But can he succeed by Sunday's sunrise deadline? How can he possibly evolve from an ordinary man into King Perry?
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: April 2012
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [503 KB]
Reading time: 304-426 min.
YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED ON A KING WEEKEND.
FRIDAY, THREE DAYS FROM NOW, MEET ME ON PIER 33 AT 6:00 P.M. DON'T BE LATE. IF YOU SPEND THE NEXT 40 HOURS FOLLOWING MY EVERY COMMAND--ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING--YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE IN SURPRISING WAYS. COME AND MEET YOUR TRUE JOY.
THIS IS NOT AN S&M THING. YOU WILL NOT BE DRUGGED. YOU WILL NOT BE ABUSED. WE MAY EAT ONION RINGS IF I'M STILL CRAVING THEM BUT HONESTLY, I DON'T CONSIDER THAT ABUSE UNLESS THEY'RE COLD. BUT YOU MUST SUBMIT ALL WEEKEND; NO SUCH THING AS A TIME-OUT. PACK A SMALL WEEKEND BAG.
REMEMBER WHO YOU WERE ALWAYS MEANT TO BE, PERRY. REMEMBER THE KING.
P.S. WEAR SOME SEXY UNDERWEAR; YOU HAVE A GREAT ASS.
* * * *
"Thank you," I say to the ponytailed caterer after she offers me wine. "Fancy party, huh?"
She smiles briefly, nodding with deference before stepping deeper into the gallery. Okay, not much reaction. She's working; let it go.
I sip the red wine, swirl it in my plastic cup, creating little maroon waves of merlot. I'm more of a beer guy, but I like doing this, wandering around this art gallery as if I'm part of this town, as if tonight is an average Tuesday night for me. I love how faraway places sometimes feel like home.
This party is groovy, a bash for lesser-name surrealists of the 1960s and '70s. Painters who understood a doorknob could wear a green sparrow's beak, and yeah, it works. With red and brown tiger stripes spilling out of a bathtub behind it, somehow it actually works.
The jagged colors, the juxtaposition of impossible realities, so similar to real life. Sometimes this world is hard for me to reconcile, its unfair sorrows and unexpected brilliance. I love that surrealists tried to paint the reality they saw, this impossible world. I dig this one with the bathtub and the sparrow beak, the Trombone Symphony Drowns Alone. No trombones in sight. I guess they drowned.
Looking around, I'm not the only tourist pretending to be a San Franciscan, examining art. Instead of gawking and taking photos, we work hard to pretend that we live right around the corner and popped out for a carton of milk. Maybe it's only around the Castro where we gay tourists fake our residency. We have a certain swagger we hope communicates, "I belong. I have always belonged."
This isn't exclusively the pretentious queens, oh no. It's the bears like me. The twinks. The leather daddies and the androgynous gigglers. The white collar gays with slick briefcases and the business lesbians openly cuddling at Market and Castro, waiting for the light to change. We're so eager to slap on our labels and march behind our distinct parade banners, but inside we're fundamentally the same: we all want to belong in the Homo Homeland, to find a corner of the world where we are each uniquely celebrated.
Wandering around, twice I overhear the famous joke repeated: "How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb? Fish." Gotta love the classics.
One painter strikes me as truly unique: Richard Mangin. He's no one particularly famous, but I've read his name once or twice as an innovator. Details in his paintings hum to me, whisper things.
The largest of his three, Siren Song, really snags my attention. A shapeless guy plays a cello in a funky green desert, and a pumpkin patch melts into gold in the lower right corner. I recognize that Dali reference. The purple sky includes a dozen shades of violet occasionally slashed by a crimson streak. In one corner of the sky, white dove wings fade through tarnished iron bars, wings more on our side than caged. Maybe a little cheesy symbolically, but still, it's cool. He wanted his point crystal clear. I wonder why? Then again, maybe I'm reading it wrong.
That guy over there is watching me. I swear I have acquired a rat's twitchiness about these things.
I study Siren Song and simultaneously check out my watcher. He's handsome. A few years older than me. Maybe thirty-three or thirty-four? Short brown hair, a few locks carefully flopping over his forehead in one spot. Clean-shaven. He has those classic, sharp-planed features you'd see in a Sunday Sears ad, a father pretending to enjoy lawn furniture, showing off his wrinkle-free Dockers. Lawn Furniture Guy wears a charcoal gray suit that hangs off him perfectly, possibly custom tailored. Peach shirt, peach tie. That guy from Millionaire is doing the same color shirt and tie combo. Regis someone. Okay, this man's definitely a step or two up from Sears. Let go of first impressions.
Is he the painter? No, that guy would be in his sixties or older by now.
I drop my key ring, stealing a glance at his shoes as I bend over. Gucci, which means he has money. Is he... I dunno, a Realtor? Or... huh. I also pick up a certain unease, even from this far away. Nervous? Nah, that's not quite it.
No, not a Realtor. A Realtor would network around the expensive art, meeting potential clients. I certainly wouldn't stake out someone dressed like me. I bet I could work as a San Francisco Realtor.
Ms. Ponytailed Caterer passes near me, and I wish I could have made her smile. She's so demure, almost apologetic. In a few more months, she'll have enough experience to become more callous.
I stand before Siren Song, waiting for him to get over here, and puzzle at the multipurpled sky. He'd better make up his mind soon or I'll miss my ride. In the sky across from the prison bars, those must represent--
A firm voice at my side says, "You a big fan of the surrealists?"
"Not really," I say, smiling wide. "That's my initial in the sky. V."
"Oh. Actually, I think those are--"
"I know, I know," I say, grinning like an idiot. "My name is Vin Vanbly, so it caught my eye. With two Vs."
Though it's awkward with my wine glass, I make two peace symbols with my fingers and then bring them together, index fingers touching, as I sometimes do when I'm being goofy with my name. People relax around me when they think I'm stupid.
His face halts its surprise as he tries hard to suppress any further reaction.
"The painting is cool," I say, turning toward him and jabbing my thumb over my shoulder for emphasis, "and I was grooving on my initials in the sky. I like the wings and bars part too. Very symbolic."
"Hi, Vin," he says, recovering quickly. "My name is Perry."
I raise my plastic cup. "Good wine."
His eyes flinch, but he says, "Yeah, it's okay."
I say, "I fix cars. I don't know a ton about surreal art, but I know what I like."
I launch a few questions about the mighty San Francisco. He answers politely at first, then a little friendlier. He's actually warming up, not being a dick. Good for you, Perry. And while I'm definitely playing blond bear, I'm not being a complete idiot, so we have a couple of nice moments together, chuckling at a comment the other makes.
Let's see what happens when the game changes.
I say, "I can totally see the cello guy as the Surrealist Manifesto's concept of absurd humor."
Perry says, "Didn't you just say you knew nothing about art?"
"I said I didn't know a ton. I read a few books."
He pauses and then says, "How many car mechanics know the Surrealist Manifesto?"
"How many car mechanics do you know?" I say, keeping my face pleasant and blank, interested to see where he takes this.
Perry extends a cautious smile, deciding whether I'm teasing or getting angry.
"None," he says at last. "Sorry. Didn't mean to be rude."
"No sweat. I read a lot. I brought six books with me on vacation. You read much?"
"Financial journals, mostly. I'm an investment banker."
His eye contact changes after this, like he's no longer searching for a way out. I believe I've been upgraded from Dumb Tourist to Person of Interest. We chat about the exciting life of an investment banker, and the also exciting life of a garage mechanic. We discover we both enjoy Thai, and he recommends a good place for panang curry in SOMA. Over slightly more friendly smiles, we find additional common ground. He owns a home e-mail account, which not everyone does. I share my AOL website address, and he says how he's been meaning to sign up.
I nod at his shoes. "Gucci."
"A mechanic who knows surrealism and fashion. Clearly I need to meet more mechanics."
"We're into show tunes too. Put a bunch of mechanics near a piano, some beer, and watch out. Gay or straight, it doesn't even matter."
He smiles. "Show tunes, huh? You also a big Madonna fan?"
A willowy man, midtwenties, appears at our side and inspects Siren Song closer, dragging a lock of long blond hair behind his right ear for Perry's benefit. He nods toward the painting and says, "This represents Vietnam, right?"
Perry hesitates before he speaks. "I don't think so. It's around that time, but a few years later."
Wait, what was that? What was that thing on Perry's face?
Our interloper, finding no suitable reaction, pretends to study it a moment longer, then saunters away.
"That guy was hitting on you, Perry."
He smiles and says, "I don't think so."
"Please. That whole 'isn't this Vietnam?' He didn't give a crap about the painting."
"In this town, everyone hits on everyone and nobody counts it as flirting. It's practically saying hello."
Is it possible that Perry couldn't see it?
"Check out that one," I suggest with a nod. "Mother's Day gift."
Perry says, "Arbor Day."
"Doesn't your mom like trees?"
He says, "I think she preferred her trees with less blood."
Perry says, "The branches are fingers and they're bleeding down the trunk."
I exhale hard. "Thanks. Now I'm queasy."
He used the past tense when mentioning his mom. Is she dead? I should check that out.
I shoot a barrage of questions his way about absurd topics: favorite birthday presents, great vacations, San Francisco neighborhoods perfect for night walking, giving him the chance to trot out his best stories, the ones that show "this is the real me." I want to understand his connection to these three paintings. I could ask him directly, but this is more fun.
"Vin, check out that dude over there."
"Dude? Are you sure you're young enough to use that word?"
Perry ignores me and shares his observation, during which an idea pops into my mind, a theory about my new friend.
I point my wine cup at a painting across the room. "That one looks like onion rings smothered in cheese. I'm so fucking hungry, I'd buy it. Would it kill your city to put out some damn chips and salsa?"
He tilts his chin upward for a split second and laughs.
Got it. I know who he is; I now understand his interest in these Richard Mangin paintings. Well, it's a guess. But I make good guesses. I don't think I'll bring it up. Let's see where this goes.
"Are you Irish?" Perry says. "You're fair. Of course, you could be German."
"Maybe. Or Nordic. My birth records were spotty on a few key details, and I grew up in foster families, so I'm one of those oddballs who doesn't know his own ethnicity."
"Oh." Perry's face falls. "I didn't mean to pry."
"Don't sweat it. I'm curious myself. My guess is German, you know? Pale, big square head like a block? Who knows, though, maybe I'm a blond Russian."
"You're built like a German dude," he says, his shy smile returning. "Big chest and all. I bet you're hairy."
I guess Perry decided to go for it.
Glancing around the gallery with pretend distraction, I unbutton my top two shirt buttons, scratching my strawberry-brown curls. I'm a bear, by the gay world's definition: stocky and hairy, the only two requirements for membership. Two weeks ago, someone on AOL used the term otter, so maybe we're evolving into a "woodland creatures" group.
My face is fairly undistinguished, except I have a goatee. I'm not hideous and I'm not Lawn Furniture handsome, which nobody is now that Perry revealed his name. Vin, let that one go. Perry.
He sips his wine and shakes his head, chuckling. "I'm not usually this forward. I sucked down two vodka cranberries at an after-work party before I came here. You're terrible, by the way. You're turning this into the opening scene in a porno."
I make my voice deep and chesty. "Fuck yeah, buddy.... Oh, yeah, just like that...."
Perry snickers. "You know that your name sounds like a fake porn star name, right? I mean, Vin Vanbly?"
"Fuck yeah, baby," I say, slapping the imaginary ass in front of me.
Perry says, "That's why you thought that guy was hitting on me. Because you're hitting on me."
"Maybe. You like?"
One corner of his mouth curves upward. "Maybe. What's with the lumberjack outfit?"
"Just got back from camping in Marin County. You like to camp?"
"Sure, sure," he says, "being out in nature is great. But I assumed you dressed that way for some leather bar later."
He insists on checking my biceps to see if I chop wood, but we both recognize and appreciate the sexy excuse to be extra close, to touch in public. I have some muscle, but it doesn't show much. Well, maybe biceps show a little bulge. I can run two city blocks, but after about three blocks, I end up wheezing, hands on my knees.
Who am I kidding? When was the last time I ran two city blocks?
We talk about the movie Fargo, which he loved, and the Minnesota accent, which I love. He asks about winters in my adopted state, as everyone must. I explain the beauty of Minnesota's spring thaw, and he dismisses it instantly. There should be a word for an attitude between snobbish and unconscious, describing someone who doesn't realize how strongly he holds his own opinions.
I like Perry, and he's definitely sexy, but that doesn't guarantee I will find the spark I seek. I can't fuck casually, and I'm not great at small talk unless I'm hunting for that spark. But I can probe a bit longer, see if I recognize kindling for a bonfire I might try to ignite. If nothing comes of this, I will have enjoyed chatting with the handsome investment banker in a San Francisco gallery. That in itself is pretty sweet.
More people enter the gallery, and as others nudge by, the two of us jostle for position. Our chests graze together as someone squeezes behind me and we bare naughty grins. I want to believe that Perry and I are both imagining each other naked. Well, I am. The shifting crowd becomes suddenly too much for Ponytailed Caterer, who falters behind Perry, her tray of wineglasses dipping disastrously for a split second, three of them sliding to the floor right at his feet.
"Sorry," Perry says, raising his voice. "Sorry! I did that. I bumped her."
Almost no time passed before his reaction.
She shoots him a look of gratitude so quick and sly that it's gone right away. For everyone else, she wears an impassive expression, clearly bearing no ill will toward the man who, everyone believes, professionally humiliated her. Group consensus shows it wasn't her fault.
No paintings are damaged, no Pradas irrevocably stained.
People gaze at him coolly, and he nods in meek apology. She mops up the floor with napkins and then disappears into a corner to restock. He's so busy accepting silent reprimands from the art patrons that he doesn't notice her two white-aproned coworkers fixing on him with undisguised anger.
"Sorry," he says to Cute Twink, who also bears an unpleasant expression.
The commotion is over, the wine scrubbed from the scene. People turn away, gossiping about him, everyone eager for a topic besides the art. I can't help but notice Perry and I have a few extra feet of space around us, no one eager to be implicated by proximity.
Perry turns to me and says, "Well, that was embarrassing."
I wait a few seconds before speaking. "Why did you do that?"
I cut him off with my hand and say, "No you didn't." I nod to the space behind him. "Seriously. Why?"
He blushes and then lowers his voice. "I worked as a caterer when I first moved here. That was my third job, my weekend job, in addition to my day and evening jobs. In San Francisco, competition for the good catering gigs is savage." Perry adopts a sinister, serious face. "You'll never pour merlot in this town again, kid."
Compassion toward someone who can do nothing for him, someone who offers nothing in return. He'll never see her again, but his response came immediately. They'll never even exchange names.
I've got to keep him talking. "Did you like catering? I bet you have some good stories."
Okay, don't get ahead of yourself, Vin. But while he talks, I can run the checklist.
Personality. He's unconsciously snobbish and spontaneously compassionate. He's got humor and humility. But damn, he's way uptight. He evolved his first impression of me, moving beyond his initial judgments. Chemistry. Fuck yeah, I'd suck his dick, and I think it's pretty mutual. Issues. He still hasn't volunteered his connection to the paintings. That's big. I've got an idea to test this. He seemed pretty happy about that Transformers birthday present, so I'm thinking he was under twelve. Need to establish timelines; I can't do the math this quickly. 70-what? Skip it; come back. Emotions. Other than a little affected, I think he's solid.
And he couldn't recognize a suitor. Why is his heart so shut down?
Who is this man, this handsome banker with a broken heart?
My own heart pounds.
Okay, that's it; message received. Let's fucking do this.
I wait for Perry to wind down his catering anecdote and then say, "Are you ready to get kinged?"
"Not sure," he says, and glances around the gallery with a mischievous smile. "Which painting are we talking about now?"
* * * *
"Seriously, what did you mean?" he says. "Is it a painting here?"
"Never mind. Hey, what brought you to San Francisco? Why'd you move here?"
Perry stumbles conversationally, not sure what to make of my refusal to answer.
Wow, how cool is this? The hot investment banker and I are about to have a King Weekend together. Dun-da-da-dah. Bring out the capital letters.
Well, if he wants it.
I've gotten a few "fuck off, weirdo" responses to my admittedly unorthodox invitation. Nothing is in stone; assume nothing. Still, I see their faces as I talk to Perry, different kings I have known and loved. I try to imagine some of them wandering in the crowd tonight. They're giving me the thumbs-up: "Go for it. We like him." Perry's smile reminds me of Ryan. He's got some grit in him too, reminding me of Kearns. Could I see Mai Kearns and Perry as friends? Hell yes.
What would you risk to find a lost king? And what if he doesn't remember you?
Maybe word of free wine reached the happy-hour bars a block away, because our little gallery party turns into a gala, more locals and more tourists pretending to be locals. Or maybe the surrealists only come out at dusk. Perry and I flirt more openly now that we have established that Perry likes hairy guys with big chests and thick love handles. I have always held lawn furniture in the highest esteem.
If I king Perry this weekend, I won't sleep much tonight. Too much planning, too much to figure out. We'll start Friday afternoon, of course, which is only a few days away. I have to deliver the invitation right away. I sneak a few glances at Siren Song, not wanting to be too obvious, but I need to consider a few details and how to put together an interpretation.
Tonight is Perry's and my only opportunity to speak until Friday, so I must make the most of our time. I ask about favorite San Francisco spots and who he's taken there, trying to learn discreetly about friends, family, and locations. The slight reluctance on his face tells me I need to slow down, not fire so many specific questions. Patience. Never been one of my strong suits, which is too bad, because I like the word patience, the p is puffy like a cloud and--
Wait, is he the one? Is he the one I finally take to my favorite San Francisco spot? The hair on the back of my neck stands straight up as I realize that Perry is most definitely the one, the one I will introduce to the Human Ghost. Holy crap, it's Perry.
Wait, wait. I don't have to decide that now. But I think, perhaps, I've been waiting for many years to meet Perry.
Stay focused. Chill out. Look around.
The collective short-term memory of the shifting crowd means we're no longer art gallery pariahs. Every now and then people edge near us, and we let our body language indicate we're engaged in a private conversation, moving a foot or two to the side when necessary to appease an art connoisseur.
Let's see how he handles some forced intimacy.
"Hey, Perry, ready for an art gallery game?"
He says, "Does this involve the shovel painting or the onion rings?"
"Neither. The game's called Big Secret. We both share something big and juicy, not just 'I cheated on my '94 income taxes,' but a big ugly secret about ourselves that almost nobody knows. I'll go first."
Perry's face registers confusion, and he says, "Wait--"
I say, "See these tiny, crisscrossing marks right here by my hairline?"
I take his hand and guide his fingers to my skull, ignoring the alarm on his face and resistance in his arm.
"They're from rat bites."
He jerks his fingers away and looks at me with naked disgust.
But I can do this. I can show Perry all my love.
"When I was twelve, I used to hide in the basement of this one foster home. The guy and his lady neighbor pretended to be married so they could get foster money from the state. His name was Billy. Shitty place to live. Billy's idea of a garbage disposal was to throw food down there for the rats to eat. I would hide from him every third Wednesday of the month, and I thought if I lay still, the rats would get tired of biting me, but honestly, it wasn't a great strategy. Twice, child and family services hospitalized me."
With one hand, I draw quotation marks in the air. "Scars."
All my love.
"I know that this makes me seem creepy, because it is creepy. It's disgusting. That's why it's one of my big secrets. This is me showing vulnerability, Perry, and if you look into my eyes right at this second, you will see I'm afraid of you thinking I am disgusting."
His face changes as he sees me, really sees.
Shit. That was harder to say than I thought.
"Your turn," I say, as if I've been waiting for him to speak and my nod is additional encouragement to break his silence. "Something big."
Perry looks around us. "Vin, I never said--"
"Go," I say, adding the slightest urgency to my suggestion. "Do it fast."
"C'mon, something big," I say in a commanding tone. "Go."
"I don't cry," he says, the words falling out of his mouth. "I mean, I can. I broke my hand playing softball when I was twenty-eight and I--no, no, honestly, I didn't cry then. I swore a lot. That's mine. I don't cry anymore. I've even tried watching sad movies, but nothing."
"Could you ever?"
"I cried some at my mom's funeral," he says, "but that's the last I remember, ten years ago. I miss her all the time; I just don't cry. I don't know if that's normal."
I nod and take this in. Good reveal. I say, "Your mom died when you were twenty-four?"
He says, "Yeah."
He steps back, careful to make sure he's not bumping into anyone, and he glances around to see who may have overheard. The crowd fills in the gaps around us, but nobody's eavesdropping, and the constant chatter around us muffles our conversation. Nevertheless, this uncomfortable turn of events has left a crease between us.
I say, "Relax. It's just a game to learn about each other."
He says, "No, of course."
His face and tone don't match his casual words, a surprised discomfort lingering as he thinks about what he shared with a stranger. But his expression morphs quickly into something else.
"Seriously, are those...?" His fingers move tentatively toward my skull, and I turn my head to give him free access.
He slowly traces his way along my bristly hairline as his fingers tenderly express what verbally he cannot. He pushes over the blond spikes and stops to stroke the tiny canyons in my geography. I've run my fingers over them enough to understand that only the softest touch can fully trace the grooves.
Fifteen minutes ago, this great tenderness would have been far too intimate for a first meeting in public, for how little we know each other. But we've crossed another threshold together. His repulsion is gone, replaced by sad curiosity.
"Does it hurt?"
"Now? No. Just looks funky when you notice it."
"I didn't see it until you pointed it out."
He presses harder, still in the realm of gentle, as he explores further. I hate it when anyone caresses these freakish souvenirs from a fucked-up childhood, yet I have to admit his fingertips soothe me.
"Were you scared?"
"Wait, why were you hiding again?"
"I hid from Billy, the guy who owned the house. He hated the rats, even though he fed them."
I can't explain more than that. I think he's had enough creepy stories for the night.
A woman sidles up to the paintings and oohs in appreciation.
"People suck," Perry says slowly. "They really, really do."
Our new neighbor says, "Excuse me, who did this?"
"Richard Mangin," I say, louder than necessary.
Perry looks disappointed but nods. His arm falls away, and he takes a step back.
"Is that a Dali reference?" the woman asks, a petite blonde with dangly gold bracelets way too big for her slender arms.
Perry looks annoyed.
I don't mind; I didn't want to get all chatty about me. Besides, it's showtime.
I nod and in a louder voice say, "Yeah, the shiny gold flank. For a while in the '60s and '70s, a small number of surrealists would sometimes paint a rounded, metallic sheen into their canvas, not exactly a melting clock but still a homage. It's called the Golden Curve, also referencing a physics theory regarding the underlying architecture of the cosmos. As a convention, the Golden Curve never caught on with more than a handful of painters, a whimsical tribute from Dali devotees."
"Oh," Dangly Bracelet Woman says. "Nice."
I shoot Perry a look that says "I got this," but I don't think that's a problem; his eyes are wide.
I've been waiting for an opportunity like this. I could have created one myself, but the art gallery is crowded now, and since we're all invading each other's space by circumstance, another interruption seemed inevitable.
I step away from Perry and our new friend, maneuver to the second painting, and use a commanding tone to say, "The Golden Curve is also in Richard Mangin's medium-sized canvas. That one."
My sudden pointing grabs the attention of three or four people nearby.
Speak louder. Draw them in.
"Notice in the petals of the third sunflower you can see the Golden Curve again. The shadows from two tree branches almost form hands on a clock. And if you look below the Golden Curve in the flower stems, you can see this artist was definitely integrating Impressionism."
Perry remains stunned. I don't know if he knows this or not, but he's sure surprised I know it. I lied when I told him I didn't know much about art. He's going to be pissed about that, I bet.
I say, "He started imitating Monet and then changed his mind, painting over the blurred edges, creating something interesting and new. It doesn't quite work, but Mangin's style as a painter was evolving."
Nine people in our crowd now. Ten.
Quit counting. Pay attention
I face Perry.
"Unfortunately the painter died young. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing mid- to late-forties. His style had not yet matured, not fully. Who knows where he might have gone. He himself might have become the next Salvador Dali."
Perry's lips part. He looks as if he might drop his own cup of wine.
"Look at this one, his final big canvas called Siren Song." I wave to the painting behind me, but I never stop staring at him.
He flinches, and I know my intuition was on track.
Others draw near.
"The adult man behind the instrument is strong yet formless at the same time, more shapes and colors than a human outline. Naked potential. The painter had not met this man; he is the future. But note the face, such joy and youthful energy. I bet the only time Richard Mangin could get his son to sit still was during cello practice. If you ran into this kid as an adult and made him laugh over a joke about onion rings, I bet you could catch a glimpse of that same smile, even if he grew up to become an uptight investment banker."
Perry's blue eyes lock on to mine in surprised threat.
Throw open the kingdom gates; it's on.
Perry gets nudged closer as more pack in, and my hunch is he can't tell what to make of me, of this show. Maybe I shouldn't have called him uptight. Gently, Vin. Let his face be your compass.
"This painter knew he was dying. Siren Song is an instruction manual to a man he would never meet. Richard Mangin says 'Son, it's pretty fucked out there. The sky is slashed and bleeding, but don't be alarmed. The purple is everything. Trust the violets, the lavender whirls, the eggplant streaks. Don't let anyone tell you what kind of man you should be. You are more than flesh; you are swirling light and formless energy.'"
"Yes," someone says. "I see it."
"The Golden Curve. Right there."
Murmuring ensues. Murmur murmur murm--
You're fucking talking, you moron!
I jerk my arms to mimic the contours.
"Threatening, jagged rocks crawl across the desert, yet this parched land is painted watery celery green, as if from between dead cracks emerges life itself. The painter says, 'From your desolation, my son, create yourself anew.'"
I soften my face and breathe. I speak into Perry with quiet authority. "A dying king painted this, a love letter to his young son. It's a father's final blessing. And its message is...."
The crowd remains still in anticipatory silence.
Perry's face remains locked in alarm.
"Its message is," I say, drawing out the words, "remember who you were always meant to be. Remember the king."
Perry flinches and backs up, pushes his way out of the crowd in a manner that's somewhere between polite and hasty.
Still talking, Vin.
"Notice those wings and prison bars. On one level, it's obvious, but look again."
Dammit, Perry, don't leave. I have more to say.
"You can see in the position of those prison bars that the Golden Curve is not the only physics reference. Those bars curve to represent cosine...."
Perry scissors his legs toward the giant glass doors. Seconds later, Perry Mangin disappears into the night without glancing backward. Cute Twink nods with relief.
Scrap the old plan; I've got a new one. Siren Song gets purchased tonight. Maybe I can help all three of these paintings get sold. I have to get Perry's attention, get him back to the gallery. While I can't force anything, I bet king energy can influence this. I can influence this. Three or four people seem awfully interested. I try to make extra eye contact with them as I wrap it up. That dude over there is hooked.
Oh, right. Perry said that.
"... and a tribute to his son," I say and clasp my hands together. "If giving this painting as a gift, a mom or dad might retell this sad story and say, 'Like this painter, I would find a way to cross time and death just to tell you how much I loved you.'"
I pause and then dip my head. "Thank you."
A smattering of polite applause follows.
Jeez, I drove Perry out of the gallery.
A man in the crowd blurts out, "I'll take it."
Someone else--perhaps a rakish real estate agent--disagrees. Quite politely, I might add.
The first man says, "Two hundred above asking."
"Three hundred above asking."
Act surprised by what's happening, Vin. Look surprised.
On the plus side, Perry's bolting counts as proof enough my arrow found its mark. He doesn't need to know any more about a King Weekend; I wouldn't have explained much anyway. And I was totally right, he does have a great ass. Those corporate guys hang out at the gym.
I should get a gym membership.
The bids climb higher and higher, everyone eager to see who first quits this expensive game of leapfrog. My new banker friend would undoubtedly frown on spontaneous art investments, but he's not here to stop the outcome. Folks across the room notice and cross over. Who's that lady with the scarf?
I see a few individuals, possibly savvier, considering Mangin's two remaining paintings in a new light, wondering if this is one of those ground-floor things you hear about in the art world: someone who is nobody suddenly becomes somebody.
Cute Twink looks flustered. Arms crossed and keeping his distance, he's still cool. But I'm sure he didn't think anyone would actually purchase tonight with such dramatics. An older man, casually but meticulously dressed, accepts Cute Twink's nods to let this unfold. That must be him, the gallery owner. Shame on me for not noticing Scarf Woman. She knows what she's looking at when it comes to art; she's into this.
The first bidder looks at me desperately and says, "Two thousand dollars over."
"I will pay double the asking price."
Art gallery patrons gasp because, hey, big drama. It's fun watching stuff like this: spilled wine, dramatic bidding war. All that's missing is a super-hard face slap and a big exit. Well, Perry made the big exit; check that off the list. I wonder if I could manage to get my face slapped? Probably.
At last, the bidding war is over. We have a winner!
I'm tempted to shake hands with the man who lost and compliment him on his good taste, but he shoots me a dark look. Maybe he already planned to buy this painting prior to my little show. Sorry, dude.
Crap. I'm going to have that word stuck in my head all week.
A few folks chatter and move to the other Mangin paintings, saying, "Yes. Right there. The Golden Curve."
Scarf Woman nods at the Mangin painting to the right and says, "I'll take this one."
Well, good. I knew she had taste.
I shake some hands as people compliment me and ask me what gallery I work for, and I have to explain that I'm no art dealer, I'm a Realtor from the Mission who is showing a two-bedroom condo with a ton of early afternoon light.
Someone nearby asks, "What are the cross streets?"
Ignore that. Smile and ignore. Get out of here.
My voice sounds mournful as I hear the words pop out of my mouth. "I can't believe I don't have any business cards."
Shut the fuck up
Business cards? What is wrong with me? I'm drunk. What if there's an actual Realtor in this crowd? Get out of here, you moron.
I think I'm drunk on Perry.
I extricate myself and take a moment or two to think things through. I step away to the glass-topped desk in back.
Our caterer friend appears in my peripheral vision; she looks forlorn, glancing toward the front door. I bet she thought Perry liked her. Well, I'm sorry about this one, Amanda, but he plays for my team. I think Perry and I are going to spend the weekend together having great sex. But much gratitude, my Queen, for bringing us together.
The gallery will call him to inform him of the two paintings purchased; I'll confirm that. I'll tell them what to say; I have to make sure they say "Mr. Mangin, your friend left you a note. He believed you might want it right away." Those exact words. How much to tip for something like that? Twenty dollars? Forty dollars? Too much might seem creepy.
I chat with the still-surprised Cute Twink, breathing a little king energy into him, congratulating him on creating an event certain to be discussed tomorrow in Castro wine bars. He jokingly asks me if I want a job, but then he says, "Seriously, was all that stuff true about the Mangin paintings?"
While he flutters around the desk creating sales bills, I take some of their squiggly-scripted stationery and dangle the pen over the blank page, waiting for the right words to emerge. While considering, I realize my decision is already made: Perry is most definitely the man I introduce to the Human Ghost; he's the one. Goose bumps rise on my arm.
In regular lettering, I write about how much I love Siren Song and how I wish I had the resources to purchase it myself. I suggest he may want to reprice his father's paintings, as they might be worth more than he realizes. On the second page, in block letters I write a variation of my standard invitation.
My eyes linger over the words "PACK A SMALL WEEKEND BAG."
Who am I kidding? He won't pack a weekend bag.
But he'll think about it.
Not packing one will give him the freedom to show up on the pier, convinced he's not coming with me. The weekend bag line works, a tried-and-true commitment test. Always tells me how hard to push.
I finish my business and tip forty dollars to Cute Twink, who is now Jason, Vin. Jason. Remember him. He promises to call Perry with my exact specifications. We make plans for my follow-up.
As I head toward the gallery exit, I wonder how to best reach Mr. Perry Mangin, investment banker. Will he forgive my little speech? Will he show? Maybe I've overestimated our connection. Perhaps I am not the one to reach him. I probably assume too much. I'm like that sometimes.
Don't think that way, Vin. Love this man.
Past experiences race through me, recycled motifs with new possibilities. My brain flashes to racing through an Illinois cornfield, slogging through New York sewers, and of course, dancing with kings at Burning Man. Colors whisper; names appear and then dissolve. Blue like his eyes? Chili red? Could we do something together in North Beach, like at Coit Tower? And there's always this neighborhood.
As I emerge into the Castro night, three or four androgynous gigglers are forced to alter their course around me, and one of them mutters, "Damn bears."
His friends laugh.
Welcome to San Francisco.
Help me, kings, guide me. Give me enough humility and grace to find Perry Mangin, the painter's son. If we're meant to spend the weekend together, please help me pull this off, figure out how to make this work. I got a hit back in the gallery. Does that king name fit with our launching point from Pier 33? Oh yes, yes it does. I do believe we have a king name, ladies and gentlemen.
Wow, that drag queen is gorgeous. As she saunters by, I can't resist saying, "You look fantastic."
She says, "I know, sugar."
I need weather reports, a few more backpacks, and a homeless shelter for Saturday. Things to buy: night vision goggles, a dozen alarm clocks, PVC piping or something similar. King Aabee is necessary this weekend, which is awesome. I love King Aabee. A giant birthday cake? Hang on, let's rework this, Mr. Vanbly. No need to race. Let the landscape rearrange itself.
It's fun to be a surrealist.
But seriously, where the hell am I going to find a duck?