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In the Picture

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He slid the BMW into a spot on 16th and fished in his pocket for the gallery keys. He was stretching up, turning the key in the topmost lock, when, to his right, in the gallery window, he saw, or glimpsed, or imagined he glimpsed, words, writing that seemed to be contained in the actual substance of the glass: LARRY HOGARTH – TWO MORE HOURS. Hogarth blinked, and, when he looked again, the words were gone. They’d vanished, and Hogarth wondered if he was the one hallucinating. A sudden wind, a different wind, a sudden gust from the desert, hot and stabbing, flapped at his pants’ flap and made his cheeks burn.

He stepped inside the gallery, hand reaching to his right to toggle the switch for the lights. Nothing happened, and he flipped the switch again. “Oh perfect,” said Hogarth. The electricity was out. Glancing across the street, he saw that the health food store, Rawvolution, was unaffected, likewise Starbucks, and he got on the phone to the Department of Water and Power to report the failure. He called Nora Vazquez, but she wasn’t picking up. He texted Drake Seger, confirming their appointment.

He crossed the street and went down to the newsstand to pick up The New Yorker. He wanted company but, as luck would have it, Starbucks was empty. The red-haired, almost anorexic girl behind the counter interrupted her texting to serve Hogarth a double espresso, and then went back to her phone again, jabbing with frantic fingers. A day that had begun dismally was going on that way. Hogarth felt dull and anxious, with a suppressed anger bubbling not far beneath the surface.What’s happening to me, he thought, what’s going on here? He sat in the window, reading about the kid who’d hacked into Sony and the CIA. Who could believe in alchemy or magic when science itself was such a mysterious miracle?

No traffic passed in the street. Hogarth heard the racket of a moped or scooter, and suddenly a wiry, filthy little guy burst in, orange motorcycle helmet almost toppling from his head as he snatched fistfuls of the free brochures and leaflets that were arrayed near the door. He thrust one of these into Hogarth’s hand, and Hogarth had an impression of swift, sudden heat, reading the words, The time is come, before in the next instant the leaflet was snatched away again.

“Need this. Need them all. Need everything,” said the guy in his lopsided helmet, hitting Hogarth with the full beam of his crazy glare.

“You’re nuts. Who are you?” Hogarth asked, but the door was already banging, and the man was puttering away on his thrashed machine, leaving behind a vinegary smell and a burning sensation that tingled through Hogarth’s fingers. “Did you see that?” Hogarth called, but the girl at the counter, oblivious, lost beneath that red tent of hair, never once wavered from the fever of her texting. The time is come. Hogarth wondered if he was losing it.

By the time he went back to the gallery, there was still no sign of Drake Seger. Nor of Nora Vazquez, usually so punctual, if taciturn to the point of ill-temper, in the morning. At least the electricity was back. The screen of the iMac cast its glow in the corner. The door to the office lay ajar, and light beckoned from within.

Hogarth’s dim and airless office had no windows. The Mortensen canvas, smeared by a cone of light from the desk lamp, seemed to call to Hogarth, to summon or beckon him. What was it Drake Seger had said? Mortensen is an artist for the lost, for the burnt-out soul squalling in fright and dreaming of transcendence. Something like that. Hogarth didn’t know about the transcendence part. He proudly saw himself as a walking sack of blood, nerves, sinews, bones, guts; a two-legged animal, clever and determined of course, addicted to the path of least resistance.

Hogarth stood close to the canvas. It seemed to have modified itself yet again. Had Mortensen been using a secret mix of paints, Hogarth wondered, something odd and special? Maybe Artforum would welcome a few paragraphs. He moved his head for a closer examination.

There was still that same odd whiff of vinegar. But the portion of canvas that had previously been blank, the area that had sought to define the hellish creature chasing Jacob, had now disappeared altogether, and Hogarth found himself peering into a hole, a small hole, but an actual hole, a nothing, from which crept, or slithered, a tentacle, first one, then several more, warm and spongy, clinging to Hogarth’s skin, sucking at his eyes, tightening around his skull in a clammy embrace. Hogarth opened his mouth and tried to scream.

“I, like, totally went to Mrs. Raskin,” said Megan Maloney, standing in her friend Lily’s neat little kitchen in Los Feliz. Megan had brought a large square pizza from Whole Foods, which she was unpacking from its box and slapping onto plates. “I said, ‘Mrs. Raskin, will you please do something about this ass Larry Hogarth?’”

“You did what?” said Lily, aghast, flushing crimson down to the roots of her hair.

“He stole a family treasure. Not to mention a small fortune,” said Megan, licking tomato sauce from her fingers. “And besides, he’s just so rude.”

“I can’t believe you did that,” said Lily. “Can we call her off? Not that I’m gonna pay attention to her goofy bullshit.”

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head,” said Megan. “She said she’d do it, like, as a total freebie. She’s interested in you.”

“In me?” said Lily.

Megan popped the cork on a bottle of chardonnay. “Join us,” she said, pouring the wine into a pair of long-stemmed glasses. “Like, totally commit to the dark side.”

“Not funny,” said Lily. Her two boys, Jake and his brother Julian, were in the living room, playing FIFA and keeping an eye on an episode of South Park they’d downloaded from Netflix. What was it with kids these days? Incapable of doing just the one thing at a time. “How was work today?”

“Mmm. Fabulous,” said Megan, swigging at her wine before laying aside the glass and shooting out her arm in a gesture of imperious command. “I only got to order the execution of 500 people.”

In her new thing, the first part she’d had in years, Megan was playing Catherine de Medici, ruthless Catholic queen of France, intent on pumping dry her hot young lovers and exterminating those pesky Huguenots. Well, it was Showtime.

“The guy who dumped you got smashed by a bus,” Lily said, wondering at her friend. Megan looked like a different woman. “You landed a part. You don’t really think …”

“It’s Mrs. Raskin,” said Megan, lofting her glass and swaying her hips in a cool little shimmy. “It’s that totally swag Kabbalah power, baby.”

“You shouldn’t be fooling with this stuff.”

“Why?”

“It’s dangerous. You don’t know where it will end.”

“I’m gonna be on, like, Leno.”

The front doorbell was chiming.

“I’ll get it,” called Julian, the elder of the two boys, from the living room. But it was Jake, the younger, 10 years old, a small and intense live wire, who threw down the Xbox and darted to the door first.

Moments later he returned with a picture, a canvas, almost too unwieldy for his skinny young arms – the Mortensen.

“It was that dude. The same dude who took it,” Jake said, setting down the canvas against the back of the sofa.

Lily and Megan exchanged a glance before Lily turned her attention to the Mortensen and shivered, just as she had when she first saw the picture all those years ago. It had been a gift, delivered by the artist himself, just days after her wedding to Tommy. Lily had made Tommy hang it in a darkened hallway. Later she’d engineered its transfer to the garage. Now, she determined, she would learn to appreciate and perhaps to love its troubling imagery, even the long-bodied, many tentacled, snarling squid-like monster, so precisely and almost freshly painted, shooting after poor Jacob up his ladder of gold-leaf.

“What did Larry Hogarth have to say for himself?” Megan asked. “That scum-sucking weasel.”

“Like, nothing,” said Jake.

“Come on,” said Lily. “He must have said something.”

Jake shook his head with determined and knowing vigor, the way he did when he was explaining to his mother some nice point about Facebook.

“He was acting kinda weird,” said Jake, launching into an imitation of Larry Hogarth, or what had once been Larry Hogarth, as he’d beaten a retreat from their door, shambling stiff-jointed, vacant-eyed, arms outstretched. “Like a busted robot,” Jake went on, before swiftly reappraising his opinion: “Like a zombie.”

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