The Most Valuable Piece
Jimmy paused a moment at the window of the downtown bar, taking the last couple of puffs from the Pall Mall cigarette he was smoking on the way. This was definitely the kind of place Richie would set to meet. A hole in the wall bar, with wood paneling that ran halfway up, and then a dingy hunter green paint up to the ceiling. It was dimly lit, with a scarred and beaten up cherry wood bar that ran the length of the back wall. The bottles were lined up neatly in front of a mirror that was lit from above. The bartender stood behind the bar, busy washing glasses, almost as if he expected some kind of rush in the overcast afternoon. Jimmy exhaled the last puff and crushed the cigarette out on the brick next to the window before tossing it onto the sidewalk and shuffled into the place.
It took Jimmy’s eyes a moment to adjust once he entered, but as soon as they had, he spotted Richie waving to him from a corner booth. He made his way over, hands in his pockets, eyes cast down. Richie stood and shook his hand.
“Thanks for meeting me, Jim. I really do appreciate it. I know this all sounds a bit crazy, but I just gotta get that painting,” Richie said.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Jimmy asked as he pulled another cigarette from his pack and lit it. “I mean, I understand the nostalgia and all, but come on, this seems pretty risky.”
“Look, Jim, I get it. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the way love is, ain’t it? Crazy? Look, after all that happened, and all she and I went through, I just don’t want her making a dime off of my mug.”
“Ok, ok. Just go over it again, let me hear the plan.”
“So, it’s a small gallery, over off 5th. Some kind of showcase of up and comers, you know? She’s got a few paintings there. The actual show and bidding are supposed to begin after some kind of introduction of the artists at seven. We still have those security uniforms left over from that job we did for Vinnie. I figure we go there around 6-6:30, slide in, wait for the clear, grab it and get out. Easy peasy.”
“Easy peasy, huh?” Jimmy frowned as he took a long drag on his cigarette. “Dammit… Ok, fine.”
“Really, Jim? Really, you’re gonna do this for me? I knew it! I knew I could count on you, man,” Richie clasped his hand tight and gave him the kind of half handshake, half hug that he was known for throughout the rougher sides of town.
Richie and Jimmy arrived at 6:15 in their security guard disguises and walked right through the front doors. No one even questioned their presence. They wound their way, side by side, through the various exhibits, and rounded a corner that opened into the area with the painting in question. Right in the middle, there was that painting, Richie standing in all of his nude glory for the world to see. And just in front of the painting was the artist, dressed in a long, black gown, hair pulled up into a bun, sipping on a glass of wine. Richie grabbed Jimmy and pulled him back around the corner.
“Holy shit, Rich, you didn’t tell me it was a nude,” Jimmy said as he stifled a laugh.
“Shhh…,” Richie held a finger up to his lips. “She’s gonna hear you, asshole. No, I left that part out.” He peeked around the corner. She was still in front of the painting. “What is she doing, just standing there?”
“Obviously, admiring her, and God’s, handiwork,” Jimmy said, smiling.
Richie held his finger to his lips again and looked back around the corner. A couple of men in black suits approached the artist.
“Ms. Romano?” one said, approaching.
She broke her attention from the painting, “Yes?”
“We just wanted to apologize for the inconvenience. We gave the delivery drivers strict guidance on what paintings were to be picked up and brought here.”
The artist looked back at the painting and ran a hand over the canvas. “It’s quite alright, I understand that these things sometimes happen. I suppose it is time I should get rid of this piece. It only serves as a reminder of someone that I can’t have.” She tilted her head to the side and ran her eyes over the whole of the painting, even as her hand ran over its surface. “It’s just. I guess I’m not quite ready yet.”
The two men studied her for a moment and the way she regarded the painting. The man that had been doing the talking up until now bowed his head and cast his eyes downward with pursed lips, “We completely understand, madame. We’ll take it to the back and have the driver return it as soon as possible.” He grabbed her by the elbow and led her just out of Jimmy and Richie’s earshot.
Richie’s expression went blank.
“Rich, it’s now or never, man, let’s go,” Jimmy said, turning the corner.
Richie caught him by the arm. When they met eyes, Richie just shook his head. “No. No, man. She can keep it. I can’t do this now. Not now.”