Featured image courtesy of www.criminalelement.coment.
The following is a fictional story that will be published through the McNicholas Milestone in installments. All characters, settings, and dialogue are purely figments of the imagination.
PART FOUR: THE ARTIST
John O’Malley might as well have been a wraith. I had been following him for well over a half an hour now as he dipped and dodged between groups of people, only staying to converse for a moment or two before moving on to another body of only half-conscious individuals. O’Malley himself, however, was very much so still aware. I had watched the man hand off every glass of champagne that had been pawned off on him by those relentless waiters with an efficiency that indicated practice.
He slipped between the folds of one of the white tents, and for lack of attention, I almost strolled right passed. I waited a heartbeat, and then two before following him in, lying in wait just long enough that on the off chance he had noticed his shadow, my presence could be passed off as a coincidence.
When I had finally rallied the courage to push through those folds as well, into an unknown, I found myself surrounded to a crowd much similar to… well… the rest of the party. Dozens of tables offered seating, places for the guests to converse while resting their aching feet. Mr. O’Malley, however, had found a chair nestles in the corner away from restlessness. Watchful eyes surveyed the people around him, and for a moment I could see the inner artist in the way he noticed each individual heartbeat.
I shifted from foot to foot and then took a tentative step towards the man, trying to devise a persona to present to him… something believable that would get him to talk. My planning was cut short as a bright-eyed, overly confident young man called out his name from the other side of the tent.
The artist lifted his eyes to the voice, and they immediately flooded with a sense of exhaustion as a boisterous set of feet approached him. I wandered their way as well, settling into a chair at a table a few yards away. Mr. O’Malley remained seated as the young gentleman reached for his hand to shake.
“How are you, John?” he asked. “Can I call you John?”
“O’Malley. You’re well, sir?” Mr. O’Malley said.
“Living the dream,” the man gestured to the air around him.
New Money, I said to myself, glancing over to the corner to watch the interaction.
“I’m glad, Mr.‒”
“Mr. Williams,” the man clarified. “I came by the gallery last week.”
“Ah, yes,” Mr. O’Malley nodded. “I remember.” The artist shrunk back into his chair and crossed his legs. The body language was nothing short of stand-offish, but Mr. Williams didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he paced over to my table, grabbed the chair next to me without saying a word, and dragged it over to Mr. O’Malley and took a seat beside him.
“Business is well I take it?” Mr. Williams asked. “Now that you can stay in your building?”
“Business is business,” O’Malley shrugged, studying his shoes.
“Oh come on, John‒”
“Right, sorry… But you have to admit that having that Andrews fellow off your back must be some kind of relieving,” Mr. Williams said as he raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
Mr. O’Malley sighed. “I suppose so,” he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. “I worked my way up to that loft, I can admit I was less than pleased when the building was sold.”
“I can imagine,” Mr. Williams chuckled. “But you know how it is… for men like Andrews money makes everything fair.”
“Well you’re not wrong,” Mr. O’Malley said.
“My brother-in-law works down at the police station,” Mr. Williams said.
“Any updates on Andrews?”
“Well, I was told not to talk about it,” a mischievous smile stretched across Mr. William’s face. “But I suppose that you did ask quite nicely, so perhaps I could make an exception.”
Both men fell quiet. Mr. O’Malley raised his eyebrows in a silent invitation, urging Mr. Williams to continue speaking without yielding his unfazed façade. Mr. William’s voice softened and I leaned subconsciously in the direction of the conversation.
“They found his coat.”
“His coat?” Mr. O’Malley pressed.
“Yeah, they’re keeping it at the police station… found it downtown in a dumpster,” Mr. Williams said.
“How do they know it’s his?”
“His business card was tucked away in the chest pocket,” Mr. Williams explained. “It was unmistakably his.”
“Ah, I see,” Mr. O’Malley nodded once.
“You know what else, John?” Mr. Williams asked, tipping his head to the side and studying Mr. O’Malley’s face.
“They found wax on the shoulder of the coat.”
“Why are you telling me this?” irritation was beginning to lace Mr. O’Malley’s voice.
“Why was there wax on the coat, John?” Mr. Williams sat back in his chair. Even the bustling people in the background seemed to slow, or maybe it was just me as I zeroed in the conversation. Mr. O’Malley loosed a hesitant breath. I wanted to reach out and peel back the veil of tension between the two of them as they held their breath.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Mr. O’Malley resigned.
“Then what does it look like, John?”
“I saw Mr. Andrews the day before he went missing… He came into the gallery looking for a piece for his foyer.”
“Did he now? Why didn’t you notify the police about his whereabouts before he vanished?” Mr. Williams pressed. I peeked over my shoulder a second time and watched as Mr. O’Malley pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes.
“Yes, he did. I didn’t want to draw wandering eyes toward my situation,” Mr. O’Malley explained, and then he dove into his story.
The bell that hung over the gallery door chimed and Mr. Andrews waltzed in. Mr. O’Malley’s head snapped up, studying the man. Mr. Andrews was all fine lines and tailored edges, his shoulders pushed back and hands folded behind his back. His feet clicked over the white tiled floors as he made his way to Mr. O’Malley.
“Mr. Andrews,” the artist said back, nodding in recognition as he wiped his hands with the rag that hung over his shoulder. Mr. O’Malley was stiff. His hands shook slightly as he avoided eye contact.
“John,” Mr. Andrews inched the edge of his hat and dipped his head toward the artist.
“You’re well I take it?” Mr. O’Malley’s question was forced.
“Cut the formalities, John. You know why I’m here,” Mr. Andrews said.
“With all due respect, Sir, I can’t tell if you’re here for the building or for the art.”
“Well would you be satisfied if I said both?” Mr. Andrews raised an eyebrow.
“Perhaps I wouldn’t be surprised,” a muscle in Mr. O’Malley’s jaw feathered as he clenched his teeth.
“I’m going to be frank with you, John. I’ve always considered you to be a friend, which is the only reason why I’m speaking with you and not one of my assistants. My company is growing, and I’m about to buy out your building for expansion.”
“I’ve heard rumors,” Mr. O’Malley swallowed hard.
“And while I’m here, I do happen to need a piece for my foyer. My pockets are deep, John. I hope it can help aid in the inconvenience,” Mr. Andrews reached out a hand, a silent peace offering. Mr. O’Malley stared at the hand, let it hang there in the balance for a second too long.
“It’s not about convenience,” Mr. O’Malley said, voice flat. “Or the money.”
“Look,” Mr. Andrews said, grabbing Mr. O’Malley’s hand. “This isn’t personal. It’s just business.”
Mr. O’Malley tightened his grip on the hand and rested his other on Mr. Andrews’ shoulder with smile that could pass for a grimace.
“Well,” Mr. O’Malley said. “When you get what’s coming to you one day, it’s not personal.”
“I’m sure the wax is just from interacting with him,” Mr. O’Malley explained to Mr. Williams. “I had been working on a new figure when he came in.”
“And that was it?” Mr. Williams asked.
“That was it. He was right. Business isn’t personal. No matter how much I worked for that space… how much I sacrificed to have a fraction of what Mr. Andrews had, business isn’t personal.”
“Intentionality doesn’t always matter,” Mr. Williams reasoned.
“I suppose so,” Mr. O’Malley shrugged. “But I had no choice but to accept that. Sentiment doesn’t have a place with men that wealthy. There was nothing I could do but move on and start building from the ground up again somewhere else.”
“But you didn’t kill him?” Mr. Williams clarified.
“Andrews is long gone by now. I’m and artist. I’m barely anybody. What I do have is self-made. I don’t have time to plan an elaborate murder, let alone take a body so far away that no one can find it,” Mr. O’Malley sat back in his chair and pulled a cigarette from the inside pocket of his suit-coat.
“Have a good evening, Mr. O’Malley,” Mr. Williams said, and then disappeared within the crowd.
I had planned on resting at the table for long enough to gather my thoughts, but the flaps of the tent opened, and a dark-eyed, dark-haired woman paced in. Jillian.