It was tempting to touch. The kind of thing that would get him thrown out of an art gallery, but this wasn't an art gallery, this was . . . whatever it was . . . Frank's office selling whatever it was Frank sold.
He ran the index and big fingers of his right hand along a spinal cord of red, a raised weal that ran almost the length of the painting.
"Tactile, isn't it?"
A very pretty young woman, in a starched white blouse and tight, grey skirt. He hadn't noticed her emerge from the inner office.
"Yes," he said. "You can almost feel the energy he put into it, as though the muscle was kind of locked into the gesture and then into paint." He knew he sounded a bit of a wanker, saying this, but sounding like a wanker really depended on who was listening.
She stood next to him now, blonde, a foot shorter than he was, looking up at the painting, while he looked at eye level.
"Never thought of it quite that way, but then I've never dared to touch. The temptation to pick at it like a scab would be too much. I might get fired. You won't. I'm Frank's secretary, by the way, Dorothy Shearer. And I'm here with an apology."
Wilderness looked directly at her for the first time, first impressions well confirmed. This one was a looker.
"Happens a lot with Frank. Never a deal going down, always a dozen deals going down. Now tell me he's had to nip out to a meeting and won't be back today."
"You've know Frank a long time, I take it?"
"Since Berlin. Since 1947."
"Yes, he's gone out to a meeting. He's asked that, Gregthat's your chauffeurtake you to the Gramercy. Frank will call you as soon as he's free."
Greg hefted the suitcase.
"What exactly is it Carver, Sharma, and Dunn do?" Wilderness asked. "Frank didn't tell you?" Dorothy Shearer replied. "I'm surprised. We're an advertising agency. You've just stepped into dreamland Mr. Holderness." Going back to street level, Wilderness thought that it was probably where Frank was always going to end up. What better career for an excon- man than advertising? A profession dedicated to convincing you that shit is toothpaste. What kind of shit would Frank be trying to sell him now?
It was not yet six, a light spring evening. Down Park Avenue, around the helter-skelter that circumvented Grand Central, and on 42nd Street Wilderness asked Greg, "Would you pull over? I think I want to walk a while. I've had eight hours of sitting down."
Greg parked the Cadillac, swung around in the seat.
"I could take your bag to the hotel and you could walk from here, if you like."
"What are the chances of me getting lost?"
Greg pointed down Lexington.
"About zero. Just stay on Lex till it ends. Twenty blocks, not even twenty minutes."
"I can't miss it?"
He found himself across the street from the Chrysler, looking up as it tapered away to infinity, at a jutting silver eagle that seemed to be a mile in the sky.
He stood on the sidewalk of a new world. Hands in pockets, head back. Whatever he did next, wherever he went next, his first step would take him into dreamland.
Then We Take Berlin © 2013 by John Lawton; used with the permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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