Chapter 32 Exit Through The Gift Shop

September edged toward October and the changing colors of the city began to pick up speed. What had begun as a nearly imperceptible brassiness beneath the green in mid September had bloomed into a magnificent riot of color by the end of the month. Each tree, shrub and hedge seemed to be trying to outdo the rest as they revealed their autumn colors which ranged from bright yellows, rich golds, peach, purple, plum, every orange imaginable from flame to rust and reds that ranged from crimson to blood to fire engine. As the arc of the sun slipped lower on the horizon, the blue of the sky and the water reflecting it became more intense with each passing day. The light filled house on Cedar Lake changed with the colors. At the height of summer, the sun streaming through the windows had been filtered through the leaves of the maples and cottonwoods surrounding the property or bounced off the lake across the street, suffusing the interior with cool greens and blues. As September waned, the sunshine passed through a canopy of leaves that had turned to the warmer end of the spectrum. In the morning, their interior was tinted by the orange and red of the maples on the parkway and by afternoon, the house was filled with sunshine saturated in the yellow and gold of the cottonwoods in the back yard. Logan could almost tell what time it was by the colors bouncing off his walls.

The morning sun coming off the lake was at a distinctly different angle than it had been when they first moved in. Not only was the sun lighting up their bedroom later than it had in July, the shadows cast upon their ceiling had definitely crept north.

The days, although shorter, were still hot and sunny. Humidity was nothing but a distant memory and Logan was far from the only surfer taking advantage of the weather. With the kids all back in school, there were fewer boats on the water so the surfers had the lakes to themselves. There was a surprisingly large community of surfers who were either unemployed or had hours flexible enough to indulge in the sport throughout the day. Logan liked to hit the water in the morning and hole up in his office in the afternoon.

He was fascinated by the changing landscape around him. He had always thought the ocean infinitely changeable but had never seen anything like the kaleidoscope of a Midwestern city in autumn. Naturally, he was aware of the changes the seasons bring; he'd seen plenty of photos and movies set in Vermont, but he'd never lived through it himself. Photographs couldn't do justice to the depth of color that made the trees look like they were lit from within. He'd never seen anything look as alive as the trees on the parkway, pulsing with color. He imagined he could actually taste the color in the air. He spent a lot of his time just staring, awe struck.

Veronica was so busy she barely noticed.

She had put together dossiers on every one of the fifteen artists represented in the catalogue from the Art Institute, along with their significant others, offspring and other family members, business partners and known associates. She looked for anything indicating susceptible behavior; addictions, gambling, promiscuity, etc. She liked to begin an investigation with as much information as possible. She was far more comfortable swamped with info than feeling like even a tiny corner was still in the dark. She also had no problem filing information in the back of her mind once she'd convinced herself it was unimportant. But she almost never forgot a detail. Logan was constantly amazed by the shear amount of information she could hold in her head. He once said her brain was like a data base with no delete function.

While Logan marveled in the changing season, she spent her days immersed in the nearly ninety files she'd already put together. She knew most of it would be discarded as of no interest; at the auction, she'd have a whole new list of people to add to the bureau's 'persons of interest' file. Some might think she was going overboard with her background studies but Veronica had yet to find herself in a situation where too much information was a problem. A born investigator, she had her father's knack for being able to pinpoint pertinent information in a storm of white noise. She never lost sight of the forest for the trees, although Logan worried that she forgot sometimes that there was a world beyond the forest's edge. He admired her tenacity, he always had, but he sometimes wished she'd either come out of the forest or let him crawl beneath the canopy with her. He was turned on by the prospect of getting to watch her work at the art auction. He found that idea much more exciting than any of the art works highlighted in the auction catalogue. The growing predatory look in her eyes was the hottest thing he'd ever seen.

Several hours before the big event, JR opened the front door to find Candy, trying hard to look professional in his black smock and succeeding only in looking like a pretty mime. His companion had a much more convincing costume; she was short and stocky, Goth from head to toe. Her makeup was heavy and black and what was left of her hair was navy blue. The right side of her head was shaved bald and a tattoo of the Mad Hatter screaming "You're not smart enough to tell me how to live!" covered her pale scalp.

"This is Nat." Candy nodded at her as he brushed past JR. "She's my assistant."

"Shut up, am not." Nat said in the thickest Minnesota accent JR had yet heard. "I'm yer ph'tahgrapher. Yer on yer own fer the rest of it, Candy."

"Like I need your help, you hack." Candy said, unruffled.

"That's 'hack bitch' to you." She shoved Candy playfully. "And doncha ferget it."

"I uh…like your hair." JR said, politely.

"Y'like my hair? Or my tat?" Nat grinned, caressing the ink on her scalp. She pointed at the curtain of navy blue hair falling to the left side of her jaw. "Under the hair on this side it says 'eat the rich'." She gave a noncommittal shrug. "It all depends on what mood I'm in."

"Bullshit." Candy snorted. "It all depends on whose party you're at. You have no integrity or standards, Nat and you know it."

"Do too! My integrity is impregnable! It's jus' my pahlitics that are mutable."

At that point, Logan and Veronica came in from the back yard and Candy introduced them to Nat.

"Omigawd, Candy! You were right, she's the cutest thing ever!" Nat exclaimed, looking Veronica up and down so enthusiastically that Veronica instinctively took a step back while Logan raised his eyebrows at Candy.

"Shut up." Candy hissed at his friend. "This is Logan, her husband."

"What, like he doesn't know how cute she is?" Nat looked disdainfully at Candy.

"Believe me," Logan said, shaking Nat's hand. "I know exactly how cute she is."

"Yah, I betcha think y' do." Nat nodded. "You jus' wait till Candy's through with her! You haven't seen cute yet."

"Oh. My. God. Nat." Candy said, his voice strangled. "Will you just shut. Up?"

"Whatever." Nat rolled her shoulder at him and turned to Veronica. "Let's go, ya li'l pixie."

It was all Logan could do to keep a straight face at the look Veronica threw at him as the other girl dragged his wife up the stairs. Candy started to follow but Logan draped a heavy arm around the slim young man's shoulders.

"I like your friend." He said, ominously.

"Don't worry; she's an excellent photographer." Candy chuckled nervously, his knees buckling slightly under the weight of Logan's arm. "She's helping me start my book. My fashion book, I mean."

"I'm sure she is." Logan's voice was light but his arm felt oppressive and threatening on Candy's shoulders. "Do you and I have to have a talk?"

Candy remembered the stories Piz had told him and he shuddered. "no." he squeaked, trying to sound indignant.

"Good! Now get up there and show us all how cute Ronnie can be!" Logan released him and Candy flew up the stairs.

"You are such a bully." JR said, shaking his head.

"Moi?" Logan asked, feigning shock. "Just polishing the old image, dude. Sometimes the right pose renders action unnecessary."

"Speaking of which, what's the plan tonight?" JR asked. "SOP?"


"Operation Asshole, reprise?"

"Of course not." Logan looked at his henchman with the innocent face JR had long ago come to distrust. "I'll be with Veronica tonight. I'm going to be a perfect gentleman." With that announcement, he turned on his heel and sauntered back to his office.

"But…" JR stared after Logan, his face a mask of dismay. "That doesn't work for me!"

"Come on," Logan spun on his heel and smirked at JR, encouragingly. "You're the invisible man, remember?"

Upstairs, Candy had given Veronica a mani/pedi and while her nails dried, he was studying her hair in the large three way mirror of her vanity.

"Gahd, this is a nice bathroom." Nat looked around appreciatively. "I never been in such a big one! 'cept in a club or somethin' and they're never as nice, y'know? I swear you could have a party in that shower."

"We try to discourage partying in the shower." Veronica said. "The tiles get too slippery for dancing."

"These them heated tiles?" Nat looked critically at the floor. "You know; the ones that are warm all winter?"

"Ah…yes. We do have radiant heating, I believe. We haven't actually had the furnace on yet."

"Will you two be quiet for a second?" Candy finally barked. "I'm working here!"

"Oh, pull yer thong outta yer butt crack, Candy; we're jus' talkin'." Nat replied, bending to look at Veronica in the mirror. "How ya gonna do her hair?"

"Not sure…" Candy ran his hand through Veronica's chin length locks. "It's not very thick…"

"Yah…fine hair's a bitch." Nat nodded, ignoring the look of indignation on Veronica's face. "And it's almost too short to do much with."

"Center part?" Candy quickly sketched a part with his comb and Veronica was treated to the sight of twin grimaces in the mirror. "Oh, FUCK no!"

"Eh…" Nat was shaking her head in distaste. "Makes her forehead look three miles wide!"

"I'm sitting right here!" Veronica said, glaring back at the two, who ignored her outburst.

"That's the trouble with heart shaped faces," Candy went on as though Veronica hadn't spoken. "The imbalance between top and bottom."

"Her face isn't heart shaped, it's square." Nat pointed out.

"It's not square." Candy shook his head impatiently. "It's heart shaped; see how pointed her chin is?"

"Look;" Nat pointed to Veronica's jaw line, "That's a nice, square jawline. Almost masculine. Just because it's not on the facial plane doesn't mean it doesn't contribute to the shape, which is square."

"Oh, okay genius, if her face is square, why does a center part make her look retarded?" Candy snapped.

"What?" Veronica blurted between them.

"Because her eyes are so small!" Nat pointed into the mirror. "And they're almost too far apart. See? A millimeter more and she'd be wall eyed!"

"Oh my God." Veronica moaned.

"She's got the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen!" Candy squealed, outraged.

"Yeah, sure; they're real pretty. They're just not real big." Nat nodded. "Just like the rest of her. Which reminds me, Hun, are you gonna be wearing a miracle bra?"

The last was delivered into the mirror, to Veronica, who shook her head, numbly.

"Oh. Too bad." Nat mumbled, peering back into the mirror.

"Well," Candy said, decisively "We can fix her eyes with shadow and lashes, a well shaped brow will eliminate the imbalance, some shading will de-emphasize that jaw and a good, sexy side part will hide the forehead…"

"Oh, honey!" Nat said as Veronica dropped her face into her hands in despair. "Don't take it personally, we're just thinking out loud. You're very pretty."

"Why did I think this was going to be fun?" Veronica raised her face, hovering between laughter and tears. "I never realized I was practically the Elephant Man!"

"Look at that." Nat glanced at Candy as she pointed into the mirror. "What are you gonna do about that huge mouth?"

Logan was told to take his things and dress in the guest room as the major undertaking in the master bath could not be interrupted for the sake of his own shower. He said he wasn't bothered by an audience but the shriek that erupted from Candy at the very idea of filling the room with steam while he worked could be heard all the way to Lake Calhoun.

Logan came out of the guest room, perfectly dressed in his Lanvin patterned silk tux. He resisted the urge to run his hand through his freshly gelled hair as he bounced down the stairs to await Veronica.

JR found him sipping a scotch and standing at the front windows staring at the lake when he came in from the kitchen, dressed in his own recently purchased tux from JCPenney.

"I brought your crap." He said, holding up the leather jewel case filled with Logan's accessories.

"Good. There better not be anything shaped like a fucking jaguar in there." Logan said, turning from the view of the lake.

"I sent that back weeks ago. If you ever looked at your statements, you'd know that." JR placed the case on a side table.

"I look at 'em." Logan said absently as he flipped open the lid on the box. He grinned as he lifted out the small velvet ring box. With his thumb, he flipped the lid and looked at the large, cushion cut pink sapphire, surrounded with tiny diamonds. "Now there is a ring worthy of Ronnie's finger!" he said with deep satisfaction.

"She'll love it." JR nodded, glancing at the colored stone. "Pick out your own stuff so I can get that back in the safe."

Normally, the jewel case spent most of its time in a bank vault but when they needed access to it, Logan decided that the best place on the property for the safe was not in the house, which was the first place a burglar would look, but in the garage. JR had had a safe made in Nevada, by the same firm that specialized in such things for high class casino/hotels. It looked like an old, beat up Craftsman tool chest, just like millions of others found in every home in America. It even held a large assortment of tools. The second and third drawers from the bottom weren't eighteen inches deep like the rest of the chest, but only six. Behind the two shortened drawers was a false back, with a secret clip. When opened, the false back revealed a keypad complete with thumb print scan. That portion of the tool chest had reinforced steel walls an inch thick, leaving a safe area of 10x22x8 inches. It was more than enough room for the jewel case and any other small items that Logan felt needed protection. The vast majority of the time, it was empty. There were exact replicas of the leather case in both Logan's bedroom and JR's apartment. JR's held his timex and piles of loose change. Logan's held cigars and beer caps.

Logan rifled through the primary case until he had what he needed for the evening which included the Cartier chronometer, falcon eye cuff links and button studs, the leather notebook, gold plated pen, lighter and cigar cutter. He opened the humidor drawer and considered the cigars.

"It kills me that those cigars cost more than my tux." JR observed as Logan tucked two of them into his inner breast pocket.

"Really?" Logan shot him a look of distaste. "You should get a better tux. And that's gonna drive me crazy." As he spoke, he reached out and yanked at JR's inexpertly tied neckwear. "You're going to have to learn to tie a bow, dude."

"You should just let me get a clip on." JR grumbled rolling his eyes as Logan retied his bow tie for him.

"If I ever catch you in a clip on, that will be the end of our relationship." Logan said, carefully making sure the ends matched. "I have some standards, after all."

"Standards but no scruples." JR remarked, holding still until Logan stepped back, satisfied with his handiwork. "Did you really let Mars submit a reimbursement claim for these tickets?"

"Yeh." Logan picked up his scotch and leaned against the back of the couch, wearing the innocent face that by turns amused and enflamed everyone who knew him.

"You don't see how that just may cause some problems for us in the future?" JR sighed with the weariness of one who has lost the same argument over and over.


"You know the feds are famous for their records. You've heard of a paper trail?"

"The way I see it; not going back for seconds at an all you can eat buffet is an insult to your hosts."

"People have gone to jail for less."

"And yet I have escaped incarceration for far more." Logan mused. "I must be charmed."

"Out of your fucking mind is what you are!" JR glared at him. "And about tonight's strategy…"

Hearing footsteps on the stairs, Logan stood up straight and looked toward the hall. Realizing he'd lost his employer's attention, JR turned and saw Veronica come around the corner.

She smiled at the young men.

They stared, open mouthed and silent, struck dumb with awe.

Her hair was a smooth, shining sweep of pale gold; her skin glowed , her brows perfectly sculpted wings above eyes which shimmered dark blue and mysterious. The dress, with its blush feathered skirt, looked as though she were dressed in flowers, ending above the knee in such a flattering way as to create the impression that her legs were a mile long. That illusion was helped by the four inches her new shoes added to her height.

"Not bad for a mousy haired, lantern jawed, walleyed Quasimodo, huh?" she asked, twirling around. "I never realized how ugly I am until the Beaut Squad got a hold of me!"

"You're usually a mess," Logan agreed when he finally found his voice. "But you clean up pretty nice, Sugarpuss."

"So do you, Sweet cheeks." She came forward and took the lapel of his silk tux between her thumb and forefinger, approvingly. "Nice threads!"

"Glad you like it. I got you something." Logan smiled down at her and presented the ring box.

"OH." She looked up at him in surprise.

"I figured your set needed a ring." He explained, looking at the antique garnets he'd given her for her birthday. The dark red stones against her alabaster skin filled him with a nearly overwhelming desire to bite her.

Veronica opened the box and gasped at the sight of the beautiful ring against the velvet. "Oh, Logan!"

He took the ring out of the box and slipped it onto her right hand, which he held as he turned it back and forth, inspecting the gem. "Yes," he finally said. "That looks good."

"It looks wonderful but you really didn't have to!" Veronica half heartedly protested. "The original set was plenty! How much did you spend on this?"

"You have a lot to learn about the gracious acceptance of gifts, Pumpkin." Logan grinned, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing her knuckles.

"I know," she apologized, squeezing his hand in agitation. "But it's so beautiful! Seriously, how much was it?"

"A hundred thirty." Logan shrugged, knowing that his stubborn little wife wouldn't rest until he gave her an answer. "Practically free."

"Oh, thank you!" She cried, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him.

"For Christ's sake, I'm standing right here!" JR exclaimed after a moment or two. "It's a miracle I have any innocence left at all."

"Oh yeah," Logan said, sounding mildly surprised, his arms still wrapped around his giggling wife. "I forgot you were there."

"Will you two try to remember that we're working tonight?" JR demanded.

Breaking their clinch, Veronica looked at JR. "Well, I'm working tonight." She said. "You two are just goofing off, as usual. But that reminds me, I have to go get my mosquito; it's the only gun that will fit in my fancy clutch."

Logan couldn't take his eyes off her until she'd disappeared around the landing. Then he turned to JR and looked him up and down in his cut rate tux.

"You still worried about being visible?" he asked with a smirk.

The parking valets lounging around the Children's Theater entrance to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts had been parking Caddies, Audi's Beamers and other trendy status symbols for the better part of an hour but the flow had finally slowed down. The reception was in the spacious, three story lobby of the museum and many guests were taking advantage of the event to view the Art Institute's many galleries in private but due to the loveliness of the evening, some of the guest who were either more familiar, or less interested in the treasures to be seen inside were taking advantage of the private park behind the large, classical building. The walk through the lawn was lined with torches and waiters brought trays of hors d'oeuvres and champagne out to the patrons enjoying a smoke on the lawn. For guests not interested in champagne, a fully stocked cash bar was inside the lobby. The event planners believed in the importance of a liquored up clientele.

"If there's more than one, are they called 'Lexii'?" one of the parking valets asked no one in particular.

"Shut up." His coworker explained.

"You guys get all the cool cars." The first one complained. "If I have to park one more Prius, I'm gonna open up the trunk and take a dump in it."

"That would be awesome!" his buddy laughed. "I hate everyone I've ever met who owned a Prius."

"My dad owns a Prius." A third valet pointed out.

"Your dad is a prick."

"Think it's okay to take a break?" another valet asked his associates.

"No…they said no breaks until everyone moved into the back."

"We haven't parked anyone in ten minutes," the first valet protested. "I'm gonna go see."

He pushed open the glass doors and approached the tall, thin matron in charge. She was of indeterminate age (somewhere between 50 and 120), dressed in shimmering dark plum silk, with her silver hair piled high, making her look like a six foot tall exotic bird. Her assistant was a younger, shorter version of herself. She fixed the valet with a stern dark eye.

"Yes?" Stork lady asked, tilting her chin up ever so much.

"We wondered if it was okay for some of us to take a break?" the valet asked. "There haven't been any cars in a while."

"Well," she drew a long, slim notebook out of the pocket of her long, purple jacket. She flipped it open and glanced down the pages covered with names that were checked off. "It looks like most of the expected have arrived…"

"What if he doesn't come?" her anxious little assistant blurted, glancing toward the reception area. "People are talking. They'll be so disappointed if he doesn't show up."

"Who?" the stork lady threw an annoyed look at her assistant.

"You know who." Her assistant stage whispered, causing the valet to smother a grin.

"Of course he'll be here." The stork lady said, imperiously. "He's on the list."

"But Mrs. Dayton is on the list," the assistant said, her soft voice trembling a little, "And her sister said she won't be coming after all!"

"He bought three tickets, Marjorie." The stork lady sniffed.

"Maybe he just wanted to support the institute?" Marjorie went on. "Sometimes people …"

"One doesn't buy three tickets to an event one has no intention of attending." The stork lady cut Marjorie off and fixed her cold eye on the valet as she slipped her notebook back into her pocket. "Two of you may take a break. I want that door properly manned until all of our expected guests have arrived."

"Yes ma'am." The valet turned back towards his post but grinned as he heard Marjorie speaking in an undertone.

"Do you think he'll buy anything? Last time he didn't! Jacques Stewart said…"

"Jack is a whiney little bitch, Marjorie. I certainly hope you know better than to listen to a word he says."

Out front again, the valet said to the four others "Bavmorda says…Oh Dibs!"

"She said 'dibs'?" another valet asked but his colleague was no longer thinking about a break. He was looking past them all at the vehicle coming down the street. Such a car could only be coming to a hoity toity shindig like the one being staged inside. He pushed past the others as the bright yellow Ferrari purred to a halt in the circular drive.

He was ready to take the keys to the beautiful Italian sport car the moment the driver's door opened. Then, several unexpected things happened at once. First, the driver who hopped out of the car looked no older than the valet; second, instead of handing him the fob, the driver placed his palm on the valet's chest and gently pushed him away from the car as he tossed the Ferrari's fob past the valet; third, another young man in a tux appeared out of nowhere at the valet's shoulder, caught the fob in midair, and turned to the valet.

"Here you go." He said, putting a key in the valet's hand with a smile. "You park that one." He nodded to the Range Rover that had pulled up, unnoticed behind the ostentatious Ferrari.

The valet looked down at the key in his hand as the driver of the sport car went around to the passenger side and opened the door.

Later, describing the game of musical cars to his roommate, one the valets said "I never believed in faires but when I saw that chick float out of that race car, I kinda changed my mind."

The knot of valets stood and stared stupidly as the first young man strode up the walk arm in arm with the most gorgeous vision they'd ever seen and the Ferrari roared off, leaving their colleague to slump behind the wheel of the Range Rover.

Four pairs of eyes stared at Veronica as she and Logan entered the Art Institute.

"We're so happy you could join us, Mr. Echolls." The elegant woman in charge of the guest list purred as she held out a hand to him. "And your guests, too of course." She allowed Veronica to enjoy the penumbra of her approval.

"My associate is parking my car." Logan said. "He'll be along in a minute."

"Oh, but we have valets; he didn't need to…" Stork lady began.

"Yeah, I've seen Ferris Beuller's day off." Logan interrupted her. "No thank you. By the way, I see you don't allow guns on the premises. Where would you like me to put this?"

Veronica, who had been looking through the three story glass wall between the entry and the lobby at the crowd already enjoying the reception, whipped her head around to see him standing in front of the Stork Lady with a hand gun dangling between his thumb and forefinger.

"OH." The Stork lady took a step back in surprise. "I…uh…"

"Mr. Echolls," Marjorie stepped forward with a nervous smile. "If you'd come with me? We have a safe in the office where I'm sure you can pick up your…gun…at the end of the evening."

"Great!" Logan smiled his most beguiling smile, avoiding Veronica's compressed glare as he offered Marjorie his arm and let her lead him to the office. Just as they went through the glass doors, JR came through the front.

"What's going on?" he asked, seeing Logan disappear into the office.

"This is Mr. Echolls' assistant." Veronica told Stork Lady.

"Is Moneybags in trouble already?" JR asked in an undertone. "We just got here!"

"Oh, there's no trouble, I assure you!" Stork Lady said graciously. "Mr. Echolls inadvertently brought a firearm onto the premises. He merely wishes to be in accordance with the Institute's policy of…um… non…proliferation."

"He brought a gun?" JR said flatly, looking from Stork Lady to Veronica who rolled her eyes. "To an art auction? What the hell did he think was going to happen?"

"Oh, he probably forgot he had it on him." Veronica said, smiling brightly. "You know how he is!"

"Does Mr. Echolls normally do things like that?" Stork lady asked.

"'Normally' isn't the way I'd describe anything he does." JR told her.

"How charming." Stork lady smiled.

Marjorie and Logan returned at that point, Marjorie blushing and giggling and Logan looking as innocent as a lamb.

"You made it." He said to JR, then turned to Veronica and dropped an arm around her waist. "Let's roll."

"Ooh, let's!" Veronica smiled.

They left Stork lady and Marjorie behind them and walked the hall toward the Institute's lobby.

"You brought a gun?" Veronica hissed as soon as they were out of earshot of the two matrons. "What's wrong with you?"

"You're the one who wanted me to start carrying." He whispered back.

"And you thought tonight was a good time to start?"

"Why not? You're packing."

"Not even remotely the same thing!" Veronica pointed out. "And I'm not about to provoke a scene like the one you just acted out."

"What scene? I was perfectly delightful. And anyway, while they were all in a twitter about my gun, no one thought to look for yours." He winked and tapped the side of his head as JR held open the tall, glass door to the Museum lobby for them.

They stood for a moment, taking in the scene.

The lobby and at least two of the galleries were filled with people, all dressed to the nines. The men were nearly all over forty but there were a few who looked to be in their thirties. They all looked sharp and splendid in their uniformly black tuxedos. There were many younger women in the crowd, as rich, older men and young, beautiful women are always found in the same social orbit. Most of the women wore black but plenty of them were dressed in colors.

And every last one of them was blond.

"Needle," Logan murmured to Veronica, "meet haystack."

Refusing to be daunted by the larger number of guests than she had expected, Veronica lead her companions toward the first gallery, where the silent auction was set up. Logan nabbed them each a glass of champagne from a passing waiter as they joined the crowd of bidders.

"Uck. Piss." Logan grimaced, handing his emptied glass to JR. "Go find me a real drink."

"Yes sir, would the lady like anything?" JR said with exaggerated smarminess to Veronica.

"Oh no. Champagne is plenty for a girl such as I." She said in her breathiest Lorelei Lee, clutching Logan's arm. They picked up a card listing all the silent auction lots. The curator offered them the box of pencils but Veronica smiled and held up a pretty little jeweled pen.

"I prefer my own." She said with a smile that made the young man's night. She and Logan made a circuit of the gallery. "Can I really bid on anything I want?" she asked him, loud enough for anyone standing nearby to hear.

"Of course." He said magnanimously. "My only rule is that anything you take home has to be at least as beautiful as you are."

"Well, that certainly let's you off the hook." A handsome, middle aged man holding his own lot card chuckled. "I wish I'd used that on my wife. Last year, I got stuck with a pair of Wooden African masks."

"Ugly, are they?" Logan asked.

"Scary as hell, really." The man replied, smiling at Veronica. "But I was complimenting your date. You're not likely to find anything in the whole place as lovely as she is."

Veronica simpered.

"Wow." Logan said, smiling. "Either I'm going to have to take you out back and beat the shit out of you or go find your wife. If she's hot, maybe I'll invite her into some small, dark room on the third floor."

"LOGAN." Veronica gasped.

"Oh, that won't be necessary." The older man said, unperturbed. "But if you think you could kick start my wife, you're welcome to try."

"There's your problem;" Logan told him. "It's a jump start, not a kick start."

"Hey baby," A tall thin girl with her platinum hair in a chignon and a dress cut down to her navel slipped her arm around the older man. "I just bid three hundred on lot 62. I really want it so remind me to keep an eye on the bids. Oh hello." She smiled at Logan and Veronica.

"What did you bid on?" Veronica asked politely.

"The most amazing set of jewelry, made completely out of old syringes." The girl answered.

"Good God, darling, really?" her date grimaced.

"Art should be dangerous." She said with a toss of her head.

"It sounds amazing," Veronica answered. She followed the other girl back across the gallery to look at the amazing, dangerous jewelry.

Logan and the older man watched the two of them thread their way through crush.

"I wouldn't mind jump starting her in a dark gallery." Logan commented.

"Oh, that's not my wife." The older man smiled. "One set of ugly masks is enough."

"Well," Veronica said, inspecting the bracelets, pendant and ear rings made of twisted and braided needles. "Those are…something."

"Wearing such things would certainly make a statement." The tall girl said, solemnly. "I'm totally into statement art."

"They don't look very comfortable." Veronica said, looking at the several tiny points that had been left sharp and exposed.

"No, but that's the point!" the other girl said without a trace of irony. "Imagine it; as you wear this set and it pricks your skin, the tiny threads of blood working their way down your throat and into the palms of your hands adding to the beauty of the piece! Your own blood becomes part of the installation. You become part of the statement!"

"That…life is pain and anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something?" Veronica guessed.

"Yes! Oh, you so get it." She nodded at Veronica. "It's the ultimate anti-capitalist statement. It's transcendant." She looked at the ugly jewelry as if it were magical. "I'll outbid anyone here who tries to take it from me."

"Oh my God, that's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!" another woman said behind them.

"Isn't it?" Veronica's companion turned and addressed the woman with excitement.

"Oh not that nonsense," the second woman dismissed lot 62 with a moue of distaste. "I was talking about this!" As she spoke, she picked up Veronica's right hand and the pink sapphire adorning her finger.

"Oh!" Veronica laughed. "Thank you. It's just a little something my date gave me."

"Who is your date, my dear?" the woman holding Veronica's hand asked. "You lucky little bitch."

"It's pretty." The tall blond in love with dangerous art sniffed. "But it doesn't make much of a statement."

"Oh doesn't it?" the third woman raised an eyebrow.

"I don't know," Veronica said. "When he put it on my finger, he said he really, really liked me."

"I'll bet he does!" the second woman laughed but the tall blond just made a disgusted noise and walked away.

"Your garnets are lovely, too." The second woman smiled at Veronica, not the least bothered by the other's departure. "the settings look antique."

"They are. The ring is new, though." Veronica held her hand up to compare the ring with the stones at her neck.

"And it's not a garnet." The woman said thoughtfully. "See how the stone is just slightly pinker? Garnets are known for their dark, almost bloody color. I love them, too. But this…" she picked up Veronica's hand again, "well, a ruby this size…unless you're here with the Sultan of Brunei, I'm guessing it's a pink diamond or sapphire."

"Oh, I'm pretty sure it's a synthetic!" Veronica laughed. "We were looking at a few at the Mall of America the other day."

"A cz with an Oscar de la Renta? You do make a statement." The woman smiled with real amusement.

"But the garnets are real!" Veronica assured her.

"Are you bidding on anything?" the woman asked, indicating the silent auction.

"Oh, I think I'll wait for the live auction later." Veronica said.

"Oh! You're attending that?"

"Isn't everyone?"

"Oh no. That's only for the hard core collectors. You'll see. Most of these folks are just here to support the Institute."

"Oh, I didn't know." Veronica admitted. "Well, I can hardly wait." She put the pretty little pen she'd been absently clicking back into her purse.

Logan had left Veronica to do her thing and returned to the main reception. JR handed him a lowball outside of the silent auction.

"That's really scotch!" he said in surprise after taking a sip.

"And you're really Logan Echolls." JR reminded him.

"I suspect you have designs on my virtue! Are you trying to get me drunk?" Logan demanded.

"Are you trying to get me busted?" JR shot back.

"Oh relax Shecky. It's obvious you don't know the first rule of entertainment."

"Enlighten me." JR was not amused.

"Always leave 'em wanting more." Logan said, wisely. "Now get me a decent drink."

As Logan uttered the last words, he casually back handed the lowball at JR, who barely managed to catch it before it spilled scotch all down his tux. He schooled his face to remain impassive as he returned to the bar.

After twenty minutes or so of inane conversation while trying to keep an eye on Veronica who was working the room like a pro, Logan drifted off to the other galleries.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art had a very impressive permanent collection and there were small knots of well dressed guests strolling about the building. Logan nodded civily to the other revelers but avoided being drawn into conversation.

Eventually he found himself standing in front of a painting that had caught his eye from across the gallery. Although not large, its vibrant colors and dynamic composition made it stand out among the rest of the works. It was The Carpet Merchants by Jean Leon Gerome. It depicted a scene in an Egyptian market, filled with colorfully robed men and intricately rendered carpets. Logan stared, transfixed.

"This painting mocks me." A sad voice behind him made Logan jump. He turned and saw a nondescript, middle aged man, holding a large tumbler of whiskey and gazing at the painting with a look of despair.

"Oh, hello." Logan said.

"This painting mocks my very existence." The man went on. "It strips me naked, points deep into my soul and cries 'Mene mene tekel upharsin'."

"Oh. Okay." Logan felt glee suffuse his being.

"It weighs me in the balance and finding me wanting, it rams a red hot poker up my ass to stir my entrails and gives me no rest. No peace till the blessed peace of death."

"I think it's kind of pretty." Logan said.

"Pretty?" the man turned his heartbroken gaze on Logan. "Pretty? It's magnificent. And its very existence brands me a failure and a sellout. I'm Kirk Sorensen."

"Oh?" Logan extended his hand "You're selling two pieces in the big, double secret auction later."

"Yes." Kirk shook the proffered hand. "Two more pieces of my immortal soul, gone forever tonight. Two more boulders on the scales against my worth. Two more assaults upon my dreams of ever being an artist worthy of my pedigree. I come here to bear the righteous wrath of my would be progenitors."

"As in this guy?" Logan hooked his thumb at the painting.

"Yes. The ancestor that I betrayed by my own hand, casting myself out of Eden." Kirk gazed up at the painting again, his face that of Moses beholding the Promised Land. "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul? Nothing." He fixed his eye on Logan. "Believe me, kid; it profits you nothing."

"I wouldn't know a thing about it." Logan admitted. "I think my parents hocked my soul for a spread in People when I was about four."

"Impossible." Kirk snorted. "The sins of the father may be visited upon the sons but the son's souls are their own, forever and always. We each of us must take responsibility for our own decisions and actions. You and you alone can trade your birthright for a mess of pottage." He took a long swig of his drink. "That's what I did. Are you guilty of the same transgression?"

"No. I was pretty much born swimming in pottage." Logan shrugged. "But I've fucked up plenty of other stuff."

"Fucking up can be forgiven." Kirk belched. "Even I could be forgiven if I had the balls to make amends. Alas, I do not."

"What did you do? Murder? Rape? Smoke in New York City?"

That got a dry chuckle out of the despondent painter. "I wish." He said, as he sat down on a marble bench in the middle of the gallery. "Oh, I wish it were that simple. Murder? Yes. I've murdered. Murdered my own potential. Slaughtered my own name. He who steals my purse gets nothing but he who steals my reputation has harmed me beyond repair, blah blah blah. What about he who slits the wrists of his own reputation, hmmm? What about him? Rape? Yes. I raped the very idea of artistic standards. My career is a metaphorical rape committed on the classical ideals of art every day of my life. I'm a rapist, a murderer, a suicide and a prodigal. My family calls me home and I am too ashamed to answer."

"Okay, you had me at red hot poker." Logan dropped to the bench beside him. "What did you do?"

"Oh, you think you want to know?" Kirk looked blearily at Logan and tried to smile. "Fine. Sit down." He took another swig, not seeming to notice that Logan was already seated. "Sit down and I'll tell you such a tale as to harrow up your very soul and freeze your blood…"

"I've seen the Danish Play," Logan cut him off. "Tell me yours or I'm out of here."

Kirk stared at Logan for a moment. Then he heaved a heavy sigh and said "I studied painting under Richard Lack."

"You unnatural fiend."

"That painting," Kirk waved at the piece on the wall in front of them "Is the Carpet M…"

"I know. I can read the writing on the wall." Logan nodded toward the description card on the wall beneath the frame.

"Then you know that it was painted by Jean Leon Gerome. A master. As such, he taught his students who in turn taught theirs and the tradition was passed from master to pupil as though from father to son, generation to generation until it was brought to America where it founded what is known as the Boston School…and in this unbroken line the great R.H. Ives Gammell taught the incomparable Richard Lack who opened up his own atelier here in Minneapolis to combat the rot that had infected and spread throughout the art world during the last heinous century and it was there, at Atelier Lack in the early eighties that Mr. Lack, in his vocation to preserve the traditions of truth, beauty and the rules of composition taught me how to draw, how to paint and how to see."

"When's this story get good?" Logan could see that his companion was in danger of falling into morose self disgust if he didn't prod him onward. "You promised me rape, murder and pirates."

"I never mentioned pirates." Kirk corrected him.

"I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention."

"You're good." Kirk raised his glass. "But I digress. Mr. Lack taught me everything I know. Composition, color theory…"

"Cut to the chase, the dawn is near. Get to your monumental screw up."

"I'm a classically trained painter!" Kirk said, pointing at The Carpet Merchants. "I can do that. But in my wild, youthful desire to make a name for myself, I allowed my agent and certain philistinian dealers to talk me into defacing my own work to make it more commercial. In the grip of impending financial doom and an ex wife whose resemblance to a harpy shall go unremarked upon, I succumbed to their unholy suggestion. Calamity. My work sold. Ignorant people who wouldn't know art from shit lined up to throw money at me and they've been doing it ever since." He shook his head and stifled a sob.

"So your great sin is that you've been successful?" Logan snorted, unimpressed.

"NO." Kirk raised his head and glared at Logan. "My sin is that I betrayed everything I believe in! I spit in the face of the tradition I loved, turned my back on everything I had been taught, abandoned my entire belief system and made a mockery of the very concept of ART. I removed myself forever from the company of the men I revere and I did it all for money. I'm a hack and a fraud who will never be able to look Gerome in the eye and greet him as an equal! I'm too embarrassed to even see my old friends with whom I studied! Rick was right. Better a show one can be proud of at the arboretum than sales in this seventh circle of hell. My success is an abomination and every day of my life is a repudiation of my own talent and everything I ever hoped to be or achieve. I have become one with the world and the world, my dear young man, is ugly and stupid."

"Well, fuck." Logan said, sympathetically.

"Oh you don't know fucked." Kirk shook his head. "I come here to do penance. To prostrate myself before this painting and the Bouguereau upstairs…have you seen it?" Logan shook his head. "Oh, you really should, it's wonderful."

"I will. I don't know if I'll have time tonight." Logan indicated that the galleries were emptying and the silent auction seemed to have come to an end.

"No, probably not." Kirk agreed. He sighed heavily and looked at Logan. "You know, my son has some talent. I thought he might be quite good someday. But I caught him sketching with a pastel and he was holding it like this." Kirk pantomimed sketching in the air with a piece of chalk, holding it by the side. "Can you imagine?"


"He was doing it on purpose! They taught him to hold it like that!" Kirk hissed. "He said that way, he could use the end or the side of the pastel indiscriminately! Indiscriminate? Nothing in art is indiscriminate. It wasn't even sharpened! The world has descended into the depths of hell and I helped build the bricks that pave the road. I'm so ashamed."

"Look, don't feel so bad. I knew a guy who sold out in a much bigger way than you did and he actually killed someone."

"Really?" Kirk took a swig of his drink. "You're not just trying to make me feel better?"

"Would I lie to you?" Logan asked.

"No. I don't believe you would." Kirk stared hard at Logan. "You're a good man. You have a kind soul."

"You're only saying that because you don't know me. My soul is in the other room."

"No," Kirk shook his head firmly. "You came here. To this painting. Of all the loathsome, soul crushing, cock sucking money worshipping sons of Baal in this building tonight, you were the only one who was drawn to the thing most worth seeing."

"I was just looking for the bathroom." Logan stood up. "Let's go. I think you need another drink."

"Oh! You're right." Kirk peered into his empty glass. "I do."

"Where'd you disappear to?" Veronica asked when Logan rejoined her at the reception. "JR is nowhere to be seen, either."

"I've been making friends. Veronica, this is Kirk." Logan introduced the self loathing artist. "Kirk, meet my soul."

"You are very beautiful. I knew you would be." Kirk said, taking Veronica's hand. "In my youth, I would have wanted to paint you. Now, I am only fit to paint the grossest whore."

"Thanks, that's...the weirdest thing anyone's ever said to me." Veronica said as JR appeared out of the crowd.

"JR, would you get my friend here another-?" Logan raised an eyebrow at Kirk.

"Whiskey." The painter smiled gratefully at JR . "Thank you."

"Did you buy anything?" Logan asked Veronica about the silent auction.

"Trash." Kirk shuddered as JR handed him a fresh glass.

"No, apparently I don't speak the right language." Veronica said. "But I did learn that the steak and potatoes won't be served until later."

"What?" Logan looked confused as she pulled him aside.

"Only a handful of these people were invited to the main event," she whispered. "The auction we're here for is in another building and starts pretty soon. People have been sneaking off."

"You sure that's what they're up to?"

"Pretty sure."

"This is a big place; there's a lot of things they could be sneaking off to do." Logan pointed out. "There's a lot of things we could be sneaking off to do."

"Yeah." She ignored his suggestive remark and looked past him to the great hall leading to several galleries. "But I've seen some of them sneaking off that way." she hooked her thumb back toward the Children's Theater and the dark lawn beyond.

"Mr. Echolls?" the Stork lady appeared with a smile. "I'd like to invite your party to join us in the Target Atrium. If you please?"

Veronica threw Logan a meaningful look. He smiled at Stork Lady. "Can I get a drink in there?"

"Of course." Stork Lady's look included JR, Veronica and Kirk. "Follow me, please."

She lead them out of the lobby and back to the entry. Before they turned through the doors that lead to the park behind the Institute, Veronica stopped.

"I need to use the ladies room, if you would all give me a moment!" and she left her companions as she ran to the washroom. Inside a stall, she opened her beaded purse. She'd bought it at a flea market a few years ago; a gorgeous, antique purse she was only able to afford because the lining was a mess. Parker had sewn a new lining into it for her, according to Veronica's instructions. The new lining was constructed with a false side that snapped shut to hide items that Veronica didn't want seen when her bag was inspected. It couldn't fool metal detectors or x-ray machines but it did come in handy occasionally. She checked to make sure that her tiny gun, a .22 caliber Sig Sauer mosquito, was tucked safely inside the hidden pocket. The mosquito was small, light and as flat as a cell phone, easily mistaken for one in a pat down. She checked her hair and lipstick and ran back out of the ladies room.

When she was within a few feet of her companions and Stork lady, she tripped and nearly fell. Logan caught her but her purse flew open, spilling its contents at Stork lady's feet.

"Oops!" Veronica giggled wildly, crouching to gather up the lipstick, compact, change and other things strewn on the floor. "I knew I shouldn't have had that last glass of champagne!"

"Oh my dear!" Stork lady said sympathetically as Veronica scrabbled at her feet. "let me help."

The two women gathered up the detritus as Logan and JR watched, confused by the sudden clumsiness of Veronica, whom they knew was not tipsy.

"Oh, you are so nice!" Veronica gushed as the elegant older woman crouched beside her. "I'm sure this is not part of your job description!" as she spoke, her hand slipped in and out of the pocket of Stork lady's jacket and JR was presented with a long, narrow notebook which he glared at for a nano second before stuffing it inside his own tuxedo jacket.

"My job description includes accommodating our guests," Stork lady said, handing Veronica the strip of condoms which had flown onto the floor. "And we are very discreet."

"Yes. I've heard that." Veronica nodded as Logan lifted her back to her feet and then gave Stork lady his hand. "Discretion is better than valium."

Once they were sure all Veronica's things were back where they belonged, Logan said "Let's go; Kirk's already inside."

Stork lady lead them out of the entry, across the torch lit lawn. Ignoring the scattered couples enjoying an assignation or a cigar, she lead them down the walk to the small modern building behind the Art Institute. The Target Atrium was a free standing gallery, designed for private events as it offered no access from the Institute itself. Inside, it was a well lit, beautifully presented space that for tonight, was a perfect showcase for the works being offered.

"All the lots are on display inside," Stork lady told Logan. "You can get your number here; all clients and purchases are anonymous, of course…"

"Oh, nuts!" Veronica blurted, rummaging through her purse. "I can't find my mints. Come with me," she tugged on JR's arm, while saying to Logan "You take care of all this; we'll be right back."

Leaving Stork lady with Logan, she pulled JR back out into the night.

"Let me have that book." She demanded.

"How did you know she had it?" JR asked, handing the notebook to her.

"I saw her take it out of her pocket and write in it as we headed into the reception." she flipped it open and perused the first few pages. "I assumed she was checking off Logan's name and I was right."

"How?" JR hadn't seen a thing.

"I was watching her reflection in the glass," Veronica shrugged. The entire wall between the lobby of the Institute and the entry was glass.

"Impressive, Mars." JR nodded. Using the darkness of the night as cover, she took out her jeweled pen, which was of course equipped with a camera, and quickly snapped shots of all the pages covered with names. It took less than five seconds.

"Come on," she said to JR. They opened the door to the entry, tossed the book inside where Stork lady would find it the moment she returned to the lobby, and headed back to the atrium to join Logan. "Now all I have to do is get shots of the heavy hitters inside and match the names and the faces."

"Damn." JR just shook his head as he opened the door for her. They had been so quick that Stork lady was just handing Logan his paddle and bid sheet.

"Did you find what you lost?" She kindly asked Veronica.

"Yes. You're so kind to ask." Veronica said gratefully.

"Come on, Pumpkin." Logan said with a smile and the three of them went in to find seats as the Stork lady returned to the reception to hook the next big fish.

Logan, Veronica and JR sat in the back corner of the rows of chairs set up for the bidders. The first few lots had gone for tidy sums and Veronica was doing her best to look bored out of her mind. She let her gaze wander around the room, smiling absently at anyone whose eye she happened to catch. Invariably, the men smiled back and the women averted their gazes. The margins of her catalogue were quickly filling up with what looked to the naked eye like doodles but were actually ciphers coded in such a way that only she could read the copious notes she was taking.

Logan was bored out of his mind.

After the first ten minutes, he amused himself by trying to get into Veronica's dress and she went along with it for a few seconds but she was working and finally had to shut him down with a slap and a glare. They drew a few looks but not so many as to say they caused a scene.

"Go get me a drink." Logan snapped at JR, causing Veronica's eyebrows to fly up. She'd never heard Logan use that tone with JR, who didn't blink but slipped silently out of his chair and glided around the room to the bar, which was set up off the side, where one could watch the bidding without getting in the way.

"You were pretty snippy with him," she murmured to Logan, loud enough so the people sitting next to them could hear. "Don't get pissed just because I'm making you wait till later…"

The woman sitting on the other side of Logan rolled her eyes.

"Of course I'm not pissed," Logan assured Veronica. "I'll apologize to him when he brings me a gorram drink."

Another lot, a large canvas covered in brown with yellow drips, went for $11,000.00. A loud groan emanated from the bar. Logan looked over and saw Kirk sitting near the bar, another whiskey in his hand.

"This could get interesting." He mused.

"Really?" Veronica said for the benefit of the woman on Logan's right. "How? Are you going to bid on something?"

"Of course, that's why I'm here." He shot back.

"Baby, I'm so bored!" she whined, knowing Logan would understand what she was doing. "Can't we go dancing?"

"In a little while, Pumpkin." He said without glancing at her. "I need to unload a couple hundred g's before I can be light on my feet."

"You could buy me another ring…" she playfully waggled her bejeweled finger in front of him.

"I could at that." He grinned. "Now would you please zip it? I'm interested in the next piece."

"You are?" she blurted. He glared at her. The next lot came up and the moment the bidding opened, he raised his paddle, giving Veronica a defiant look. He bid twice more but in no time, the bidding was high enough so that he was able to depart the field credibly.

"Did JR ever come back with your drink?" Veronica asked, looking around.

"NO." Logan said a little louder than necessary. Several pairs of eyes flickered in their direction. "That's what you get when you don't beat the servants enough."

"I'll get you a drink." Veronica offered, having noticed that from the bar, she would be able to see and therefore photograph, the faces of all the bidders.

"Don't bother; I'm not even thirsty anymore." Logan grumbled.

"Well then I'll get myself a drink. You're not the only one here, you know." She shot him a look and slid out of her seat. Careful not to get in the way of any bidding, she wound her way over to the bar. There were two or three gentlemen enjoying drinks and waiting for the pieces they were interested in to come up to the block. Kirk was sitting off to the side, perched on a stool, leaning against the wall and sucking down yet another whiskey. Veronica smiled at all of them, ordered a white wine and turned to watch the bidding. Sure enough, she was now facing the entire audience. Raising her catalogue, she lifted her pen and began clicking.

Back in his seat, Logan perused his catalogue and wondered how long he would have to pretend to be interested in anything being offered tonight.

"Hey." The woman sitting beside him leaned into him. He looked up from his catalogue into her eyes. "Ditch the skinny blond." She whispered.

He let his eyes trail down her face, neck and into her cleavage. She was in her mid thirties, extremely hot, stacked and he could see no sign of a bra. He met her large green eyes again.

"Why?" he asked.

"She's not your type." She breathed, raising a perfect eyebrow.

"She's not? I kinda thought she was."

"Please. Insipid isn't your style." She arched her back a little bit. "You need someone with fire."

"She promised to handcuff me to the bed and do interesting things to me with fruit." Logan explained.

"Fruit?" the woman said, as though she couldn't be more bored. "That is so 2008."

"Is it?" Logan asked, alarmed.

"Come on." She leaned forward, pressing her breasts against his arm as she breathed the words in his ear. "You need a grown woman who knows what a man likes."

He looked at her for a heartbeat, then reached into his jacket. His hand came out with a black key card between two fingers. He held it up.

"Room 436." He said as she took the card. "See you after the auction." Then he stood and sauntered over to the bar to interrupt whatever what going on between his wife and the Clooney wannabe chatting her up.

"Are you interested in art?" an extremely handsome silver haired gentleman in a tux almost as nice as Logan's asked Veronica as they stood sipping their drinks at the bar.

"Oh, ever so much." Veronica nodded. "I studied art in school and for a short time, thought I might learn to paint. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I have no talent." As she spoke, she turned an adoring gaze at the ridiculously ugly canvas on the block. The bidding was up to $15,000.00.

"You know, being a painter is only one part of the art world," her companion said. "There are other ways you could contribute."

"Me? What could I possibly give to the art world, aside of course from supporting the great artists?" she batted her eyes. Men were so easy, sometimes.

"Have you ever considered being an artist's model?" he sipped his drink.

"I…no!" she feigned confusion. "I thought one had to be tall and leggy to model."

"It's only fashion models who need to be two legged giraffes," he smiled, showing perfect, white teeth. "And if I may say, you were clearly made to wear couture. No; painters are more concerned with beauty than body type and you, if I'm not being too forward here, have the loveliest skin I've ever seen. Any artist would jump at the chance to paint you."

"You're very sweet." she wished she could blush on command.

"I know several artists…I could introduce you."

"Do you?" She looked at him, wide eyed. "Could you really?"

"Of course…" he went off into a monologue about how connected he was in the art world and as she listened to him, Veronica noticed Logan rise from his seat and approach the bar. A tiny frown marred her forehead as she also noticed how many people in the room were watching him. Some (mostly women) stared openly but most did it covertly. It was almost imperceptible but from her vantage point she could see the entire room's attention shift as he walked from the back of the seats to the bar near the front. The biggest change was in the personnel running the auction. It was exactly the sort of thing she'd been trained to notice when every one of them seemed to freeze in…what? Anticipation? Fear? Excitement? They were clearly on edge as they noticed that Logan Echolls was on the move.

It reminded her of their first semester at Hearst, when the rest of the student body was just getting used to having a celebrity in their midst. For a brief moment, Veronica remembered the agony of those days; her insecurity and mistrust driving her insane and causing a deep wedge between them. For just an instant, she couldn't hear what the gentleman speaking to her was saying.

Logan's eyes met hers, breaking the spell and enabling her to pull herself back into the moment. She looked up into the eyes of the silver haired man and found him looking at her, clearly waiting for an answer.

"That sounds wonderful!" she purred, having no idea what he'd said. His pleased smile assured her it was the right thing to say.

"There's my friend, my good, dear friend!" a voice slurred from behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see Kirk, pointing at Logan with the hand not clutching the large tumbler of whiskey and swaying precariously on his seat. "Your luminous soul is, for some reason, speaking to a jackal. Have you come to join her?"

"I have." Logan put a finger to his lips as he bellied up to the bar behind Veronica. "Quiet now."

"Are you enjoying the auction?" The silver haired man asked Logan over Veronica's head.

"Immensely." Logan said, ordering a drink. "But I think my date is bored."

"Not anymore." Veronica corrected him, throwing a smile at her conversational partner.

"I can't imagine such a fascinating woman ever being bored." He smiled down at her.

"Dude, really?" Logan laughed. "Is that the sort of line that worked in the seventies?"

"Logan." Veronica hid her desire to laugh behind a façade of shock. "I've been having a perfectly lovely talk with Mr. um…" she looked up at her companion with a question in her eyes.

"No names tonight," He smiled at her. "You know the rules. Of course, some of us are beyond anonymity, isn't that so, Mr. Echolls?"

"My name is Craig Binky." Logan snapped, sipping his drink and turning his attention back to the auction.

"Crabby. I fear Mr. Binky has been outbid." The silver haired man murmured to Veronica with a wag of his eyebrows. She giggled. "If you'll excuse me now, Lovely lady, I must rejoin my own party." He raised his glass in a silent toast. "After."

As he glided away, she wondered for a moment what he meant by 'after' but didn't really care. JR had finally joined them at the bar.

"Where have you been?" she whispered.

"I had…an emergency." He said, looking embarrassed.

"What kind of an emergency? Logan has been loudly complaining about the fact that you never brought his drink."

"He'll live." JR looked impatiently over her shoulder at his boss, who was apparently greatly amused by Kirk.

"So, where were you, really?" she prodded.

He looked at her, irritated but resigned. "If you must know…I …have a problem when I eat things with too much cream cheese."

"Oh. OH." She broke out in giggles, much to his dismay. A slight ruckus behind them caught their attention.

"Horrors! I must remove myself from these proceedings!" Kirk was struggling to get off his stool.

"Sit down." Logan advised him.

"No, no! I can't watch. I can't stand it; an abominable fraud is about to be perpetrated on the world."

"What's he talking about?" JR asked.

"Don't worry," Logan told him. "He's just blowing off some self esteem."

"His painting is up next." Veronica said, checking her catalogue.

"Should I buy it?" Logan asked Kirk.

"NO! Never." Kirk shook his head so vehemently that his stool tottered. "I couldn't bear it. You know my shame. You're not like these…sheep." Kirk finally managed to get to his feet, mumbling to himself. "These…polygamous fellators… philandering sodomites…pederasts…debasers of all things good and beautiful and holy…"

Veronica, Logan and JR watched in fascination as Kirk got unsteadily to his feet, pulled himself upright and faced the audience.


And then he passed out.

Logan looked at his limp body on the floor, then turned to Veronica and said "I told you this would be fun."

Pandemonium ensued.

When Kirk collapsed in a heap, one of the matrons screamed and several people shouted '911! Call 911!'. When some of the attendees realized that EMTs were on their way, they decided it was time to remove themselves from the premises. About a half dozen people stood and made their way to the door but the rest were rooted to their chairs, staring in fascination at the drama by the bar.

Logan looked down at the body at his feet and sipped his scotch. JR stared stupidly at Kirk and did nothing. Veronica knelt and searched for a pulse. She found it immediately; strong and steady.

"He's just passed out but he seems fine," She said, standing. She turned and found herself staring into the chest of the silver haired gent.

"Come," he said "It's time to go." He took her by the left wrist and began to pull her toward the door.

"Go? I'm not going anywhere with you." Veronica protested, pulling back.

"That's not what you said earlier." He said, surprised.

"Well, I wasn't really listening earlier, so I don't think that counts." Veronica said, still trying to pull her wrist out of his grasp.

"Look, I don't have time for this," he said impatiently. "You wanted to meet my friend tonight, I set it up; he's waiting for us. Knock off the nonsense or you'll regret it."

"Let go of me or you'll regret it!" she snapped.

"I. Don't. Think. So!" he said, clearly struggling to maintain his composure.

"I DO!" As she spoke, Veronica swung her right arm at him and hit him in the jaw. She had no room for leverage and her feet weren't planted so there wasn't much force in the blow but she was wearing a seven carat stone on that hand so it wasn't completely ineffectual.

"OW! Bitch!" the silver haired man's left hand flew to his chin and he drew his right hand back to slap Veronica, who was shaking her hand in great pain.

JR, who had watched the whole thing in a state of shock, threw up his left arm to block the blow, then swung in to the old coot with his right.

While forty two may look like an old coot to a twenty three year old, the silver haired man wasn't really very old and he was much bigger, stronger and more fit than JR.

The auction audience watched with mouths agape as they tussled.

Logan took once last sip and placed his drink on the bar.

"It's absolutely true," he said conversationally to the bartender, who was watching JR get bent in half, "If you want something done right, you really have to do it yourself."

Then he punched the silver haired man in the face. Unlike Veronica's blow, Logan's came from the hip and had the force of his entire body behind it. The crack as his fist connected with the older man's jaw rang through gallery like a gunshot and the older man was actually lifted off his feet and was as unconscious as Kirk by the time he hit the ground. Logan looked at his companions and said "We should probably go."

"This way," Veronica had marked every exit in the building within seconds of entering and there were far too many people trying to crowd out the front door. She motioned for them to follow and headed for another exit.

As they passed behind the auctioneer, who was staring agog at the mayhem erupting around him, Logan stopped for a moment at the podium. Every eye in the gallery was on him. For a heartbeat, he stared back at the three dozen faces watching him, then leaned into the microphone.

"I am Banksy!" he blurted.

And was gone.

To be continued...