CHAPTER 2: Leader

Submitted into Contest #12 in response to: Write a story about a character with a sidekick.... view prompt



(The first chapter of this story is in the first Armchair Detectives' prompt)

He'd spent the morning kicking around an old soccer ball. Playing by himself made him miss his best friend.

Before Valdis had turned sixteen and Jay had moved to Florida, they'd spent their free time together on the beaches of South Carolina. They'd set up a clubhouse made from driftwood and formed a secret society. They didn't play with other children because they both felt sure they were better than other people.

Lordly and often perfumed with a scent of his own making, Valdis took their lead as if it were his birthright. He communicated with his bearing that he was nothing if not a blue blood. Jay was made to believe it.

Jay himself was no commoner, but he stood just to the side of this commanding brightness. He listened readily to Valdis' thoughts and let him make his mind.

Valdis Morrison Seabrook and Marion Jay Alderbright. A pair indeed. No wonder they had grand ideas about themselves.

It wasn't only the loneliness which made him think of his friend. It was also the notion that he was somehow involved in the strange occurrence last weekend.

After the picture of the lady had been stolen from the Lightner Museum and replaced by a thirteen-year-old girl's painting, Jay's father, Igneous Alderbright, had agreed to act as if nothing awry had took place in order to protect the girl and her brother. Jay had a strong feeling they were not to blame for the theft. However, he didn't think it had nothing to do with them.

As for the curious thing, it came after that, when an anonymous buyer sent in a bid of a thousand dollars for the original work of the kindergartener, as the teen girl's painting was being called.

There was no signature on the note, but one crude symbol. Being in a unique position, Jay was able to recognize what it was supposed to be: a dove. A quite similar dove had adorned the signatures on the rather lovely paintings done by Valdis Morrision Seabrook.

The messenger said he would wait for a reply. Jay told him he was the reply, and to take him with him.

"I cannot. I have no orders pertaining to this situation."

Jay's father intervened. "We really can't sell the painting. It doesn't belong to us."

"The buyer would like to know the name and address of the artist then."

"If your employer is so captivated with this art piece that he can't give it up, I suppose I can ask the artist myself," Jay said, adding, "But then I would like to meet the buyer and tell him what the ambitions are myself."

The messenger had said he would communicate this to the buyer, and left.

Jay couldn't ask Sani McGibbons herself about whether she would like to sell her painting, because she didn't know it was hanging inside a museum right now, so he did the next best thing.

Tank Gibbon, her half brother, had wispy dark hair that looked ready to blow off in a gust of wind. He was mostly anti-social, and the only reason Jay and Tank had begun speaking was because Jay had seen someone who looked like Tank at the scene of the crime.

"Money... W-What are you talking about, Marion?"

"It doesn't matter. Just tell me a price. I don't know that you will get it, but I need a number, in case."

"It doesn't feel right making money off that thing."

"No, it doesn't, but people have bought Picasso. It's not our fault. And you don't have to give the money to your sister and make her head go big. Keep it for your futures."

"Marion... speaking of my half sister... She's been meeting this guy."

Smiling sweetly, Jay asked, "And so?"

"I never see his face. It seems... well, very scary. I was hoping you might look into it."

"Let's each of us take care of our own sisters, shall we?"

"That's not fair! You don't have a sister! Now come on. She talks to you, stand near her and let her spill the beans."

"I don't think so." But Jay was unpleasantly curious, and had learned it was a mistake to attempt to tame his own passionate curiosity. "Tell me your price."

"A thousand's too much. Tell the man, er, or woman, that we're selling discounted since it's our first time doing business. Too low wouldn't be good either... Four hundred fifty, does that sound all right?"

"As long as it's a number, I'll take it."

The messenger allowed Jay to accompany him the next day, and he met the buyer at a disorderly sidewalk cafe. Amongst the coffee drinkers passing notes and typing away busily on their typewriters, there was a young man sitting under an umbrella shaded table by the propped open door.

"By George, if it isn't Marion Alderbright, my dearest chum! My face must show my surprise at seeing you here." In fact, Valdis' face showed nothing like surprise. It was bursting with amusement. The youthful lines of his features were strengthening into a man's, and Jay was struck by how Valdis was changing, and bewildered to think he did not know everything about him anymore.

Jay bowed before him. Finally, his watchful eyes enjoying themselves, Valdis' voice sprang into action. "You may sit down."

Jay took the chair directly across from him. "You meant for me to come, didn't you? Your dove..."

"I unfortunately know a little secret, Jay. One that your father would like to know. Perhaps more importantly, the police have been looking for this person for months."

"Is this related to the hot dog painting?" Jay spoke hurriedly.

Valdis couldn't help himself from chuckling. "So, someone unexpectedly joins the art train I participate in. We're visiting upper Florida. This someone is selling off a piece they claim a cousin of theirs produced. Everyone at the art train is an amateur, I'm the only one anyone could expect to know what they're doing. I take a look at the piece and keep my laugh to myself. It's an old piece, you see, Marion. Too old for this person's cousin to have put together. I tell them I'll give them a thousand for it, my usual starting bid, and they insist on seven thousand five hundred. I let my persuasiveness take the reins, and soon they've returned to a proper price for their stolen property."

"It's our stolen picture." Jay let out a breath.

"Of course it is. I used my contacts and wriggled it out of the police that something had been stolen from the Lightner Museum a week ago. I own the picture now and it is safe. As for my desire to buy the 'hot dog'" —he let each unfamiliar word just barely touch his tongue before sending them out— "painting, it is quite a desire. It's sounds absolutely funny bone tingling." His forest green eyes sparkled. 

"I hope you jest," Jay grumbled. "Why didn't you bring the stolen picture straight to my father and tell us the criminal's whereabouts?"

"Jay, I hope you jest. Are things meant to be that simple? They wouldn't be worth doing." He sipped his black coffee. "...I sent my dove with a message for you. You have come seeking orders, and information that you did not do the work for. Allow me to tell you that the time for your little brother behavior is over." His warm hand covered Jay's and made peace and not war of his statement. "You and I live apart from each other now. I don't want you keeping to my side. You must take your own lead. It's your museum's picture that was stolen. You find out who it is who stole it, all by yourself. Then I'll give you the picture back."

"And what of the 'hot dog'? The artist's agent is asking for four hundred fifty."

"Ah. I don't go down, only up. A thousand four hundred fifty. There, it's got my number and theirs together, nicely. You go and give it to them" —Valdis was already signing a check— "and wrap the painting up nice for me. Put it into the care of my messenger, won't you, my friend?"

Jay rose, and bowed once more before the boy growing into a man, whom he could no longer follow closely as he wished.

(The next three chapters of this story are in the three consecutive Armchair Detectives' prompts)

October 25, 2019 20:44

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