Chapter 16: First Rumblings
It was a late night for Gary at the office. Phones were off the hook continuously and it was all he could do to finish his articles for the next day’s paper. Pictures of the portrait would be plastered over anything and everything by morning. There was already rumor circulating about shirts and various other apparel being produced. It won’t be long before there are bumper stickers too, Gary thought wryly.
Still, he had to wonder why the Thomas’ waited until now to produce the artifact. Yes, there was the initial investigation, but even then he would have assumed that it should have come up long before now. Of course, they too could have been hiding it, judging by Bryan’s reaction.
Gary played the image over again in his mind.
It was well known that the Thomas’ and the District Attorney’s son did not get along, nor did they agree with his union with the Baxter girl. The problem only worsened as the artist’s physical state began to deteriorate. Then again, the Thomas’ had also distanced themselves from Gwenivere as the relationship continued. Apparently the arguments Shawn spoke of at the press conference had continued for quite some time. That alone was enough to keep the media buzzing.
Gary shut off his lamp for the night and threw on his jacket. Heading to his car, another caught his eye. It was Shawn’s, parked outside the coffee shop just across the street. He sat with the same brunette at a table just inside. Gary would have shrugged off the whole notion if it had not been for the manner which the two seemed to be talking.
Sheryl Thomas, as Gary had finally remembered after overviewing all his data on the case, had been the artist’s closest friend and ally. She sat in tears, sobbing at the table with her brother. He painfully tried to reassure her before getting up to leave.
The reporter made beeline for his Buick trying to avoid the appearance of his obvious spying. As he got in he watched Shawn struggle with his keys for a moment, then hurriedly take off. Sheryl was alone wiping her tears as she watched from the coffee shop windows. She left moments later, but it was not so much Sheryl’s tears that bothered Gary as it had been the curator’s struggle with his keys.
His nerves are probably shot.
But the feeling wouldn’t leave him. It grabbed at his chest, burning his lungs.
“Follow,” echoed in his mind.
The reporter shrugged nervously, unsure of how he was to know which way the man had left. Regrettably he started the car and pulled out to the street. He drove in the general direction he remembered watching the small brown Ford leave just as it began to rain. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he continued down the road toward the museum.
Shouldn’t they be closed by now, he thought checking his watch.
He couldn’t fight the feeling anymore. The closer he got to the museum, he could feel something was up. What was he? Spiderman?
Gary parked the car across the street a way down so as not to be immediately noticed. He could vaguely see Shawn’s car parked at the back of the massive, european styled building. A light was on in one of the galleries as it glinted through one of the darkened windows.
Swallowing, Gary marched across the street.
Shawn walked into his grand office for the millionth time. The walls were covered in fine walnut, darkly polished. Shelving took up the sides of the room that held volumes of research he had put together on each piece the museum displayed both past and present. The back wall was composed entirely of windows; the panes of glass much taller than himself. His marble topped desk sat in the center with his plush leather chair behind it.
He turned on the desk lamp as he watched the rain streaking the windows.
Rain. It was raining the night they found her—or rather when Sheryl found her. How could he have been so stupid? No wonder she was afraid of him.
He always knew his anger was a problem, but now he had aided Gwen’s disappearance not once, but twice. Now how was he ever going to find her?
Shawn suddenly felt incredibly small in the office he once took pride in.
Because of Gwen, his reputation had grown and so had the museum’s. Yet he felt as horrid as his old Ford with the way it choked on gas.
“Why…,” he wondered.
His mind traveled back to how he use to tease her while they were still small. He called her ‘tomboy’ and pulled her pig tales. She would punch him moments later until Tyler started crying or Sheryl would separate the two. He remembered how the girls giggled together under bedsheets with a flashlight reading books late into the night.
It was a stark contrast to the fights that had ensued more recently. He felt as though he had killed her. He may as well have. He never would have thought it was their last argument that would sentence her to such a life. Where was she to go now? What would she do? Would he ever see her again?
He fought the urge to cry. He had to keep it together. There was no sense in breaking down now.
Shawn walked slowly down the hall to the gallery.
Pale grey walls held her works. Some were plastered in brilliant shades of reds and blues while others were more muted pastels. Some were inspired by dreams, others by life and a few more were commission pieces the museum had managed to buy.
He followed the u-shaped room to the back wall where the familiar canvas stood mounted on the only black wall of the gallery. Velvet ropes hung before it to keep touchy fingers away.
Shawn reached out to straighten it when the sound of footsteps startled him.
“The museum is closed,” he called, looking for a figure.
“Shawn,” asked a familiar voice.
The curator turned to see that last person he wanted to.
“Mr. Wilson,” he sighed. “What are you doing here? You know we’re closed.”
“Yes, I know,” Bryan answered with a smile that was all too fake for Shawn. “I saw your car outside and thought I’d come check on you. Is everything alright?”
“Everything is fine,” Shawn answered, an air of suspicion in his voice. “I had a few things to take care of, that’s all.”
“I was just curious…”
Bryan leaned toward the ropes to examine the painting.
“Curious about what?”
“Where did you find this? In all my time with your sister she never painted such a piece. Are you sure it’s hers? I don’t seem to see a signature.”
“She wasn’t finished with it,” Shawn answered abruptly.
“Ah…I see. Then why sell it? And for such a cause? She told me she never wanted children.”
What, Shawn thought slightly irritated. “Perhaps it was from one of her dreams,” he said finally. “or perhaps she was inspired by something else.”
Bryan shot the curator a knowing glance. “Still, it doesn’t look to be her style.”
Bryan’s strange demeanor was bothering the curator. He was all too close. Shawn took a couple of steps away, pretending to be more interested in the remainder of the collection.
“She has been steadily combining abstract qualities into her pieces. She always did enjoy making messes.”
“Like her apartment?”
The words struck like a knife.
“That wasn’t her,” Shawn said sharply. “There was somebody else in her apartment that night.”
“I know that,” Bryan answered stepping closer, his hands shoved in his coat pockets. “But why not auction off one of these other pieces,” he said gesturing. “I’m sure any one of these would draw just as much attention.”
“I plan to sell these as well. One for every month she’s gone, until none are left.”
“Then perhaps you should start with her first pieces.”
Shawn turned suddenly on his heels to face the lawyer. “Why are you so suddenly interested in this? You were never much of a fan of some of her pieces.”
“I’m hurt,” Bryan answered faking a look of pain. “She always asked my opinion on her pieces before she allowed you to see them. And in any case, there were some you didn’t like much either.”
“Well that’s news to me,” the curator answered, his arms folded across his chest.
Gary walked quietly through the museum when he heard the sound of voices. He lightened his steps until he saw the light emanating from the gallery. Quietly he approached until he saw the two figures talking. Their voices showed signs of agitation, so Gary deemed it fair to watch.
“Me,” Shawn blurted. “How dare you! You waltz in and take over her life—and her career, make her life a living nightmare and now I’m the bad guy?”
“She ran from you crying that night!”
“How would you know? You told the police you hadn’t seen her!”
Shawn stepped on a nerve. Bryan’s expression turned to anger, but sudden footsteps caught their attention.
“Hi there…,” Gary said nervously rubbing his head. “I…I think I left my wallet here…and I saw the light was on so I thought I’d see if I could look.”
The lawyer stepped away from the curator wondering who the scraggly young man was.
“You realize we’re closed sir,” Shawn answered, somewhat relieved with the distraction.
Copyright The Faithbook 2012