Lil pulled up to the warehouse. Hank strode out to meet me. He was six feet tall, early sixties, bald, and wearing a four-thousand-dollar suit. He could tell shit from chocolate, negotiate a deal, take up space at an auction, and determine true worth from hype. More importantly, he understood my taste, which was why he’d been so surprised I wanted that piece.
“Jaydee.” He held out his hand. He had on a few big rings and a clunky watch, and his voice was thick with New York. He looked more like a truck driver than an art dealer, and that’s why I liked him. He snuck up on people with his knowledge and erudition, and by the time artists and agents realized they weren’t dealing with a rube, I had what I wanted.
“Hank.” We walked through the warehouse. My companies used the space as a logistics hold for construction materials and imported food. The offices for the people routing it all over the world were inside the warehouse, too.
Hank waved his arm dismissively. “What the f**k did you buy this piece of shit for? You want something to spend your money on, I got a girl with a studio in Compton. Tears in your eyes. Tears.”
“You called me. And not to question my taste, I presume.”
“I question your taste every day.”
“Really? Never would have guessed.”
Hank stopped outside a conference room door. “It’s good work, no question. But I don’t know how much of it you saw before you went overpaying while I wasn’t looking.”
“Fan-freaking-tastic. Can we not do that any more?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Fine,” Hank said, obviously annoyed. “Everything’s here. All the documentation, the sketches, inspiration, all the history and work that went into the installation. That’s what you bought, sight unseen.”
“Can we go in now?”
Hank remained in front of the door. “Look, artists are crazy. I never met one who wasn’t a little scrambled. Maybe they all got bit by a shithouse rat when they were babies. This? That I got behind this door? I’m thinking of calling the LAPD just so they can have a record of it. But I need your okay first.”
“You’ve really intrigued the hell out of me, Hank.”
He opened the door. The room was outfitted with a long table and black office chairs for impromptu meetings with the logistics staff, importers, and customs officials. Every surface was covered with sketches and tiny, three-dimensional mockups. Some cutouts, some collages, some mounted, all numbered to match the catalog.
“I left the good shit on the table, under that black matte,” Hank said.
I moved the black cardboard. It was about the size of a placemat, but it hid something bigger than its actual size.
The top sketch was a black quill pen spaghetti scrawl, and only by looking at it carefully could I discern a woman with her throat cut and a blood-spitting dick coming out. The woman had dark hair. I knew who it was.
Next in the stack: her face split open and a target inside.
A gun in her snatch. A dozen knives pinning her to the wall. Hands choking her. Squeezing her br**sts blue. Pulling her vagina out. It got worse. The things he fantasized about doing to her body were sickening.
“Is this actual blood?” I asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine. The catalog says ‘mixed media.’”
“Thank you for showing me this.”
Hank slipped the black cardboard over the drawings so the violence didn’t take up the whole room. “Should I shove it up his ass?”
“No. I want you to photograph it first. Then I’ll tell you when to burn it.”
“Do you know what this cost you?”
“Yes, I do.”
He regarded me for a second. “You know the girl.”
I held my hand out. “Thanks again, buddy. Make arrangements with your Compton girl if you think it’s a fit.”
On the way back up the 710, I couldn’t think straight, much less work. I’d never wanted to hurt anyone as badly as I wanted to hurt Kevin Wainwright just for putting those images in my head. But he’d done nothing wrong. The purpose of his work was to exorcise his demons. He couldn’t be held legally or morally accountable for its content. If he was angry at Monica for walking out on him, he had every right to draw her slashed open if that gave him closure.
So I couldn’t call the LAPD, and I couldn’t tell Monica. I’d have to admit I bought the thing behind her back, and she wouldn’t think well of it. Worse, I could scare her for no reason. I didn’t want to scare her. I wanted her to be the same, proud little goddess I knew. I was just going to have to watch her more closely in case they were more than just drawings.
I wore one of my new garters, a purple so dark it could be black. Over that was the black lace dress I’d bought at Nordstrom’s. The skirt fell just above my knees and the satin lining stopped just above the hem. The neckline was modest, and the sleeves covered my upper arms. It was skin tight but comfortable and classy. He could take me anywhere. I was only a slut underneath the dress.
I braided my hair. I tried to make it special, but I simply didn’t have Gabby’s skill, and my arms ached by the third try. I did my best, though, same as every day since she died. I wore my hair as a remembrance to her, as if I could call her back and whisper in her ear I loved you.
I didn’t have a roommate to answer the knock at the door. Times like that made me feel gut-twisting loneliness. I ran out, winding a band around the bottom of the braid. Even though I knew it was Jonathan, I had to look out the window to check first. He leaned on the corner of the porch, looking at the opening of the crawlspace. His brown leather jacket hung over a suit and tie, and his expression was dead serious.
“See something you like?” I asked when I opened the door.
“Your foundation’s slipping.”
“Have you noticed the hill? And gravity? How they conspire?”
He glanced back at me without moving his body. Fuck, he was gorgeous. “I can get someone to fix it. I’m a real estate developer, you know. I’ve got guys.”
I strode over to him and put my hands on his back. He looked at the foundation critically, as though he was doing calculations in his head. He looked at me again, and I put my fingers in his hair. We stood like that for a second as I drank him in.
“You’re beautiful,” I said.
“I was just about to say that.” He turned and leaned on the railing with his legs spread. I stepped into the opening. He slid his fingers up my thighs, past my hemline, leaving my skin tingling in their wake. When he got to the lace tops of my stockings, he put his hands beneath my ass and stroked me gently.