“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”
“A deal is a deal, Peter.” Neal chuckled. “You didn’t have to come, you could have just extended my radius to include the art gallery for the night.”
“Then no complaining. I did the leg work to close the Tarkington case, and you promised you’d take me to an art display of my choosing if we caught the guy before the weekend.”
“I kind of thought we’d just be wandering the Met for a few hours.”
“I wanted to see something new, I know every inch of the Met inside and out.”
“It makes me nervous when you say things like that.”
“Everything I say makes you nervous for one reason or another.”
Peter couldn’t exactly argue with Neal’s generalization. Neal chuckled, clearly enjoying the evening out as they walked up towards the small art gallery set in a trendy area of Midtown. Neal lead Peter to an unlabeled store front being guarded by a broad shouldered man in a deep red suit. Plain brown paper tapped up on the inside of the glass made it impossible to see into the unmarked gallery, if it wasn’t for the man standing outside it would have been easy to assume that the place was just closed down for repairs. Slipping his hands into his pockets Neal stepped up to the man and just looked up at him. The bouncer looked Neal over with little interest before turning his attention to Peter and narrowing his eyes suspiciously.
“I brought a friend.” Neal explained the unasked question.
“He brought a chaperon.” Peter corrected.
The man in the red suit didn’t seem to care either way, stepping to the side he used the curved metal rod set into the paper covered glass door to open it for the men. Neal thanked the doorman and stepped inside. Peter glanced around the fairly busy Midtown night scene before joining Neal inside. Peter had to blink a few times stepping in from the dark street into a bright white space with harsh track lighting. The high gloss wooden floors reflected the dazzling light as well making it a little harder to adjust.
The room was about thirty feet wide and about seventy feet long with pure white walls. The track lighting was set up along the ceiling near the walls as if they usually highlighted paintings on display, but there was nothing hung on the walls. There were thirteen guests milling around the empty gallery, a few of them speaking to one another in hushed tones. There were seven women, all of them young, disturbingly thin, dripping in jewelry, and dressed in what Peter guessed was the height of fashion. The six men that made up the rest of the crowd were more varied in age and body type, but equally dressed in what passed for male fashion. Most of them held glasses of champagne, but none of them seemed to be drinking it.
Even though Neal’s suit probably rivaled anyone else’s outfit in sheer cost his more classic look set him apart from the group. Although Peter himself was truly the odd on out in his work suit that might as well be collection of rags as far as this gathering was concerned. Peter didn’t care, hands on his hips he glared a waiter away who had approached out of seemingly nowhere with a small tray of champagne. Neal snagged one of the drinks before the man could scurry away, but like the others he seemed to just want to have something in his hand. Peter looked around at the blank walls again before turning to Neal. Neal looked as excited as a kid in a toy store as he watched the small crowd.
“Are these people supposed to be the art you wanted to see?” Peter asked doubtfully.
“Neal, there’s nothing else here.”
“Modern Art.” Peter muttered bitterly as he shook his head sadly. “Just let me know when you’ve had enough of looking at nothing so I can go home.”
“Don’t worry, I promised Elizabeth I’d have you home by midnight.”
Peter pushed the sleeve of his jacket up slightly to check his watch, it was almost ten or in other words it was almost his bedtime. Considering that Neal had gone the extra mile to quickly close the Tarkington case Peter decided not to comment further on the ‘art’ display he’d chosen as a reward. Trying to look on the bright side Peter noted to himself that at least with nothing on the walls there wasn’t anything to steal.
After a few minutes of standing around the lights flickered the gallery the way they would in an opera house to let the audience know that intermission was over. Everyone seemed to instinctively know to move over to the left hand wall near the middle of the long room where they formed a loose semi circle facing the blank wall but keeping back a good ten feet. Peter was content to stay standing near the door, but Neal encouraged him to come over and join the others.
Peter stood and stared at the blank wall with the others for a few minutes before turning to Neal with a questioning look. Still looking like he was having a disproportionately good time Neal smiled but didn’t explain further. Sighing heavily Peter turned back to the well lit wall. He had a nagging feeling that Neal was pulling his leg somehow, but if it was a prank it was a needlessly elaborate one. If Neal had wanted to pretend that nothingness was art he could have done so without hiring the audience. The crowd seemed to be as dead serious about the blank display as a group appreciating a solemn masterpiece by one of the great masters.
A white door in the back wall that Peter hadn’t noticed against the white wall suddenly opened. A man of Asian decent with a neatly shaven head dressed completely in a flowing white set of pajama like clothes stepped out. In one hand he held a white folding chair, and in the other he carried a white metal bucket. The on lookers moved to the side and allowed the man to step into the semi circle.
The man put down the bucket that Peter could now see was half full of white paint with the handle of a roller sicking out of the thick paint. The man in white set up his folding chair to face the wall before picking the bucket back up and dumping the paint onto the floor. Peter winced at the mess the man had just made on the meticulously cared for hardwood floor. Undisturbed by the mess the man picked up the roller brush and painted an area on the wall about two feet square. The white paint was a little shiny on the white wall, but other than that it wasn’t really viable as they were the same shade of white.
Peter furrowed his brow as the man dropped the roller before sitting down with his back to them and stared motionless at the freshly painted wall. Several minutes passed in perfect silence. Peter couldn’t help but feel like he was missing something as audience gathered started nodding to themselves thoughtfully. No one spoke, but a few of the people gathered did start to sip at the alcohol they’d been holding. Turning an irate glare on Neal Peter narrowed his eyes while he waited for Neal to give up on the joke. Neal flashed Peter an excited smile before taking a pull at the flute of champagne he was still holding.
Still convinced this was a prank Peter’s jaw tightened slightly in irritation, but he kept quiet and turning his attention back to the blank wall he played along. Peter had stood on his feet for hours on end basically doing nothing during posted guard duty in his earlier career days with the FBI, he could and would stand her all night before letting Neal get a rise out of him for this. He was confident that Neal would get bored long before he did. An hour later Peter was starting to lose his patients but he wasn’t about to let Neal win this round.
After another half hour the man in white moved for the first time since sitting down by leaning forward and tapped one finger against the spot he had painted as if testing it for tackiness. He brought his finger to his face and made a point to inspect it, finding it clean he got to his feet. Turning around the man bowed deeply before departing towards the back door. Peter jerked slightly as the small crowd broke into polite applause. With the show apparently over the people gathered started to head for the door to leave.
“That was great.” Neal beamed.
“You dragged me down here so you could watch someone watch paint dry?”
“Correction,” Neal smiled brightly “I came here to watch you watch Terence Koh watch paint dry.”
“It was *very* entertaining.”