Park Avenue Prince(6)

By: Louise Bay

“Ms. Astor, this is my client, Sam Shaw.” Nina put her hand on the arm of the man standing next to her.

I trailed my eyes up to see a man who was around thirty, with dirty blond hair and deep brown eyes staring back at me. “Mr. Shaw, it’s very nice to meet you.” He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. He looked bored, as if the evening was something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

“Grace, this artist tonight is just on the cusp of breaking out, isn’t he?” Nina asked, while still gazing at Mr. Shaw.

An eye roll nearly escaped me but I managed to rein it in. “That’s right. There’s a real buzz about him at the moment and some very important collectors here tonight.” I slipped into the rhythm I’d developed along the course of the evening. “He’s a very painterly painter who clearly has his roots in abstract expressionism.” Mr. Shaw didn’t meet my eye. He stared at the canvas wearing a confused expression. Nina was wasting her time.

“Gracie,” Steve’s voice boomed out behind me and caught Mr. Shaw’s attention.

I tried not to let the uncomfortableness I felt show. “Let me introduce you to the artist,” I said.

Steve’s arms went around my waist and I squirmed. “Hey, Gracie.”

“Steve, please meet Mr. Shaw and Nina Grecco.” As subtly as I could, I pushed against his chest, trying to break free from his grasp. He ignored me, holding me tightly. “I was just going to tell them about this piece.” I pointed to Nina’s left. “Do you want to give us some more background?” I smiled and caught Mr. Shaw’s eye. He looked between us as if he were trying to figure out what was going on.

Steve began to talk about his inspiration for the collection while I tried to wriggle free from his clutches.

“Ms. Astor, would you please show me around your gallery?” Mr. Shaw asked, interrupting Steve in full flow. I smiled. Intentional or not, I couldn’t have been more grateful for his rescue.

“Do you want me to come?” Nina asked.

“We’ll manage just fine,” Mr. Shaw replied before I said anything. “Lead the way.” Steve released me and I headed to the back of the gallery, Mr. Shaw following.

I stopped as the crowd thinned out and turned to him. “This space at the back has a mixture of artists,” I said, and Mr. Shaw shoved his hands into his pockets and nodded. “What kind of art do you like?” I asked taking an opportunity to look at him more closely. Instead of being able to decide whether or not he was handsome, I was struck by his expression—the way he was looking at me. It was almost the way a person might look at a painting—first to get an overall impression and then more closely at what the painting was trying to say.

Our eyes unlocked as he looked around.

A frown formed on his face. “I have no idea.”

While he was otherwise occupied, I looked at him closely but I couldn’t place him. The wealthy in New York was a pretty small number. Everything from the watch hanging heavily on his wrist to his soft leather shoes told me this guy clearly had money—he was an Upper East Sider. But I’d never met him before. I would have remembered. He was tall, well over Steve’s six feet. Broad shouldered, Mr. Shaw filled out his suit very nicely. The slight curl of his hair in his otherwise perfect façade suggested something a little wild about him. The sound of someone’s deep belly laugh made me realize I was staring at him and I turned away.

Mr. Shaw began to walk farther away from the exhibition, toward my secret space, and I followed him as he poked his head around the wall. “Is this part of it too?” he asked.

“Part of the gallery? Yes. But the work behind the partition doesn’t really fit with the rest of the pieces. I just like them.”

He glanced at me and then turned his attention back to my hidden works. I followed his gaze. “This is a La Touche. An impressionist oil painting. And this”—I pointed at the Degas—“is an original lithograph, signed by Degas, who, as you probably know, was famous for painting ballerinas. He was a contemporary of La Touche.”

“And these?” He nodded to the pair of photographs.

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