Raquel strolled through the gallery space, admiring her layout of the paintings for the new show. This was her gallery, and tonight she would sell some of the most expensive art in NYC.
Someone moved behind her. Her assistant, probably. The public was’t allowed in right before an opening.
She imagined the other galarists green with envy. Why wouldn’t they be? Her gallery was prospering, her artists became the talk of the town, her connections couldn’t be better. She had everything she had wished for, and tingled with delight.
“You can feel it, can’t you?”
She spun around.
He stood two paces away, tall, dark, and handsome, with a natural charm that radiated even through her startle reaction.
“How did you get in?”
“You can feel it,” he repeated, “the low thrum, the faint vibrations through the walls and floors,” he closed his eyes and stretched out his arms, as if fingering the vibrations in the air.
“Who are you?”
“I’m a collector.” He paused. “Like you.” His voice rolled, deep and sweet, like honey.
“I’m not a collector,” she countered, trying to get her bearings back, “I’m a gallarist. This is my gallery.”
He smiled gently, “Ah, but I’m not a collector of art, I’m a collector of artists. As are you, dear lady.”
She relaxed a bit. “Well, I do have a reputation for having good taste.”
“Why so modest? They say you have the magic touch. Artists you take an interest in suddenly have huge successes.”
He looked at her piercingly.
“Yes, you do have the magic touch,” he continued. “The magic in here is palpable. I can feel it.”
He walked around her and she stiffened. He moved her hair aside gently, and spoke in a low voice, but directly, into her ear.
“I know what you are. I know you have magic. Real magic. And you’ve been using it to make the art you sell irresistible.”
“Now, I’m going to give you a choice. You have a show opening tonight. You can cancel the show, close your gallery, and make sure I never hear about you again, or…”
“You can’t tell me what to do,” she cut in.
“Or, I can negate your magic and let the whole world see and feel and think what they really see and feel and think when they look at this art. Not the fantasy you’ve imposed.”
She froze with fear. “You can’t do that.” Could he?
“Ah, but I can. And I will, only too gladly.”
“And what about the artists. You would ruin all their careers?”
“Spare me the guilt trip. You’re the one who ruined their careers…”
“I made their careers.”
“…by depriving them of any chance to get better. You took promising artists and fooled them into thinking they were already great. They never improved. They never worked. They never had to.”
“So what? They got success. They got everything they wanted.”
“They got only what you manufactured for them.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Close the show. Or you’ll find out if they agree.”
“You can’t make me do anything. And you will get out of my gallery now.”
She turned to face him. He was gone.
• • •
That night the opening was going smoothly. The guests were mingling, several paintings had already sold, and the featured artist, Clarissa, whose career Raquel had personally handled from the beginning, was ecstatic.
Then they heard the clink clink of tapping on a wine glass, and the spell broke. People blinked, and shook their heads as if dislodging an unpleasant thought. One by one, they noticed leaflets in their hands, explaining what Raquel had done, and they began to look around, seeing the art they had admired just moments before with new eyes.
• • •
The next few weeks were a nightmare. Articles vilified her across the news and Internet. Collectors threatened to sue for fraud. One morning she arrived at the gallery to discover that someone had lobbed gallons of red paint at the façade.
Reporters hounded her for interviews. She agreed once, to tell her side of the story, but the reporter spent the entire time prodding her to do magic. She refused, but by the end he had gotten her so riled up that she tried to curse him and couldn’t. She hadn’t been able to do any magic since the night the mysterious gentleman had upended her life.
The worst part was the backlash from her own artists.
“What? You want me to apologize for giving you everything you wanted?”
“You betrayed me,” Clarissa screamed, close to tears.
“I made you rich and famous.”
“It wasn’t me. You lied. You cheated.”
“So what? You got everything you ever dreamed of.”
“Except that none of it was real,” she sobbed. “I wish I’d never met you.”
• • •
The next day, Raquel got a call from the police. Clarissa had been found that morning, dead. She had taken far too many sleeping pills and didn’t wake up. The note by her bedside read: “I could have been a great artist if it wasn’t for you, Raquel. I hope you go to hell.”
It floored her.
So people were mad; she got that. But why would she kill herself over this? Raquel had known Clarissa, sold her art, guided her career, for almost two decades, and thought she knew her. How could she do such a thing?
“So they didn’t like it after all?” She spun around at the suave voice behind her.
“You! You did this. You ruined everything.”
“Ah, yes. I tattled and now you have to face the music, so it’s all my fault, of course.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“I told you. I collect artists. Con artists.”
“Collect? What are you going to do? Kidnap and torture me?”
“Oh, no. Leaving would be too easy. No, you’re going to face everything they have for you. Without magic. And I’ll be keeping an eye on you, dear lady, whether you see me or not.”