Randall pulled the pickup into a space, nose-in to the sidewalk, right outside the Gallery. He jumped out and stood for a moment studying the display windows, as he always did. He was proud of what Charles and he had done with the place.
When he had first met Charles on the traditional freshman trek up the hill to the big concrete letter “M” that overlooked the city, he knew instantly that it would be more than a one-night stand.
They had reached that summit point behind the campus only moments apart, and so they sat together under the big blue Montana sky while catching their breath.
As they chatted, it didn’t take long for them to establish a rapport and an understanding, even though to look at them one would not think they had much in common. Randall was tall, well-built, tanned from an outdoors life, with sandy hair and blue eyes. Charles on the other hand was short and thin, with a pale complexion, dark hair and eyes, and with his rimless glasses looked quite “bookish”. However each had often been described by others as charming and handsome in their own way.
“It’s pretty from up here, isn’t it? Nice city view.” Randall had commented.
“Yes, with the river running through it. I didn’t expect it when I first applied for here. It’s a pretty area.”
Randall asked, “So where are you from?”
“Omaha, actually. And you?”
“Oh, I’m a local. Lived in Missoula, well Huson to tell the truth, all my life.”
“You don’t look like the hunting and fishing type.”
“I might have grown up on a ranch, but we’re not all big butch cowboys, you know.” Randall laughed, and was enchanted by Charles’s returned chuckle.
It was still the first semester when they moved in together into an off-campus rented house. Fellow students took them to be the local odd couple. Randall, contrary to his rugged, chiselled looks, was a softly spoken talented artist, and studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts. However, more in line with how people perceived him, he was also a star member of the University’s Rodeo Team.
Charles on the other hand was heading towards a BS in Business Administration majoring in Accounting and Finance with a minor in Marketing. College life for Charles involved him in both the Badminton Club and the Debating team.
Following graduation they had pooled their resources, rented a store downtown and opened an Art Gallery. Although Randall’s works sold reasonably well, and Charles’s business acumen soon saw the Gallery making a small profit, the Gallery really began to boom when Randall began scouring the state for artworks to sell on consignment. He discovered many talented artists, and with his winning smile and personality and growing reputation as a curator and connoisseur many others begged to be represented in Charles and Randall’s Gallery. Whether painters, sculptors, printmakers, ceramic artists or even photographers, a showing, or even to have pieces, in the Gallery assured the growing status of the artist.
Charles’s rapport with the influential social and business elite, and those aspiring to be counted amongst them, meant that their clientele increased incrementally, and soon they were dispatching work through orders on their website to clients throughout the country.
Business swelled for the Gallery, with Randall’s acquisitions and Charles’s marketing, and soon they made an offer on buying the store, and remodeled upstairs into spacious stylish apartment for themselves.
Randall ceased his reminisces, and opened the door to the gallery. At the sound of the door buzzer a voice called out, “Be right with you.”
Randall looked about the gallery space. Again marveling at what they had achieved. The space was open and bright, full of light with a fifteen-foot ceiling. The walls, on which the track-lighted paintings, prints and photographs hung, were a brilliant white which allowed the colors of the works to stand out, or accented the contrast of the few black and white photographs. Down the center of the space was a white platform about two-foot high on which were displayed various item of pottery, ceramics, and small sculptures, most of which were bronze bisons, bears and elks. Spread about the space were three contemporary chrome and glass cube cabinets that displayed a range of silverwork and smaller glazed pottery.
Set near a doorway at the rear of the gallery, with copious clear space surrounding it, was their customer service point. There was a glass topped chrome legged desk, the size of which could comfortable serve as a large family dining table. Two chrome and black leather client chairs were placed in front of the desk. Behind the desk was a highly polished cherrywood cabinet with a black marble top, on which sat a cash register and PINpad. The drawers of the cabinet held their paperwork.
Charles emerged from the back room that they used for storage and framing and packing work, “Oh, sweetheart, you’re back.”
“Charles,” Randall said excitedly. “You must come and look at this.”
“What? I’m busy packing an order. It’s the last of the good ceramics, by the way.”
“It’s alright, I picked up some pieces from Annette up in Polson. Oh, lovely pieces, too. Some ceramic art plates, should bring around eighty dollars each and two wonderful ceramic sculptures, I’m guessing about twelve hundred each---”
“Is that it? That’s what I’m supposed to rush outside to see?”
“No, no. Sorry, I got off track. Let me finish. Anyway, Annette told me about this sculptor that works in metal. Apparently he’s a welder by trade, an old Salish guy. Well, I went to see this guy in Ronan, and got the most marvelous statue. It’s a ---“
“Hang on, I thought we decided we needed to find some more contemporary paintings, oils and watercolors. Look, I know we’ve got about thirty artists on our books, but we need more oil landscapes, you know Glacier National Park with elks, Flathead River, old barns and fences on the plains, you know the kind of thing. Clients in the east ask me for that all the time.”
“Yes, yes, I called in to see Steven at Great Falls, but he’s not interested in changing galleries but—“
“I thought he worked in pastels anyway.”
“Yes, mainly, but he does some oils as well, but as I was saying,” and he paused to smile at Charles. “He mentioned a young guy he meet through the School of Art who he said was doing fabulous work. No, not professionally, he works for the County up in Shelby. So anyway, I went to Shelby to see him and he showed me some of his work and Steven was right, it’s fabulous.”
“Another unknown though, Randall?”
“Oh, Charles, we’ve taken on unknowns before and made them. I’m sure his stuff will sell. Wait till you see them. And I bought them outright.”
“You did what? Normally we take new people on consignment, and take our percentage. What are you playing at?”
“Look, the guy is a bit of a stoner. Gave him five-hundred bucks for five paintings. I reckon we can get at least seven-fifty each. But that’s not the best, you need to come and look at old George’s sculpture.”
“An Indian from Ronan? How did you end up there?”
“Well, I went across to Kalispell to see Jerry to ask about artists working in watercolors up his way. Not very helpful unfortunately, and I was a bit pissed actually, but after Annette put me onto this sculpture, well, I headed down to Ronan to have a look at it. Charles it’s incredible. Come and look.”
They left the cool of the air-conditioned gallery and stepped outside into the summer heat.
“Oh, my god. It’s monstrous.” Charles stared up at the eight-foot tall angel that towered menacingly above him in the pick up.
It was created from welded and bolted thick strips of twisted shiny black-painted metal, with in-fills here and there of rusted discarded chicken wire. More shaped chicken wire was fashioned to represent a face, and bolted to the structure were painted wings in shiny automotive metallic gold paint. To Charles the wings seemed to have been formed from cut and shaped old car panels. Atop the sculpture gold painted barbed wire attached to a short black metal rod circled the angle’s head as a representation of a halo.
The sun glinted off the gold paint, dazzling Charles, “Randall, you can’t be serious. It’s.. it’s—“
“It’s wonderful isn’t it, Charles? I think we’re terribly lucky to have been able to grab it. Apparently he originally made it to donate to the church at St. Ignatius, but they didn’t want it. The way he spoke I think he was a little upset at that. He told me he made it to thank some guardian angel that he believes led him to find his lost grandson in the big snowstorm last winter. He says that it will protect us, and anyone who buys it.”
“You think somebody’s going to actually buy it?”
“Trust me, Charles, you know I’m usually right about these things. I think we’ll get around five thousand for it.”
“Yep, and we’re on fifty per cent.” Randall smiled at Charles. “Not bad, hey?”
“How are we going to get it inside? And where the heck are we going to put it?”
“It’ll look great in the space near the desk. There’s that spare little one-foot platform in the back room. It’ll look great standing on that. We’ll spotlight it, and we’ll put a little calligraphy placard with old George’s story on it about the angel leading him to his lost grandson and how it will be lucky for the purchaser. You know the kind of crap about superstitions and Indian folklore. People will love it. And, Charles, don’t fuss, getting it inside is easy. The wings unbolt and I’ll phone that day-labor place and get them to send over some guys to move it this afternoon. C’mon, let’s get the other stuff in. The paintings are wrapped in the blankets, and Annette’s stuff is in bubble wrap in those cartons.”
They made a couple of trips to unload the pickup, and after lunch four men sent by the labor agency managed, with a degree of difficulty, to maneuver the angel inside and up onto the platform. Randall rearranged the lighting so that angel was lighted from directly above which cast an eerie glow through the whole body of the piece. He wrote the angel’s background story on a placard in his best calligraphy script, glued an upright to the back of the card and placed it at the foot of the sculpture.
The next day, as was their usual habit, Charles and Randall rose early, and went out for their pre-breakfast two-mile morning walk. Their walk took them alongside the Clark Fork to the Madison Street Bridge and along the trail on the other side to the California Street Bridge and back along the downtown bank to home.
As yet it was still early morning, and the sun was just rising. Here and there a few shredded wisps of pale pink cloud were smudged high on the brightening horizon. Soon the Montana sky would stretch its intense summer blue dome high overhead.
They always used this quiet of the morning to discuss their plans for the day. Today though it was talk of the cocktail party they were planning for two weeks time. They enjoyed having clients and friends for their special cocktail parties at the Gallery which they held at irregular intervals to launch particular exhibitions of featured artists, or simply because they hadn’t thrown a soiree for a while and Charles felt the need to schmooze some potential clients.
Their intimate circle of friends and regular clientele regarded Charles and Randall’s cocktail parties as a highlight in their social circle and spoke of those nights for weeks afterwards. Having already discussed the caterer’s finger food menu and wines at length and having decided on the broad repertoire for the string quartet, Charles, in his usual fastidious way, was now detailing the intricacies of the intended decorations.
They were still in deep discussion about the color of the napkins as they made their way homewards along the pathway towards the Carousel. The blue and white Clark Fork was now playfully shimmering under the morning sun, and in their cheerful mood they held hands and skipped for a couple of steps like carefree children.
As they approached Dragon Hollow they suddenly stopped as two teenagers, maybe 17 or 18 years old, stepped from behind a tree onto the path directly in front of them. Both wore kerchiefs over their faces, the taller with a black beanie pulled tight down over his ears, the other wearing a gray hoodie. The tall one brandished a hunting knife at Randall and Charles.
“Hand it all over,” he demanded.
“Listen, buddy, you don’t want to do this,” Randall said as forcefully as he could as he shifted himself in front of Charles.
“Fucking give it over! Your wallets, your phones.” the teen whispered hoarsely. “Or I’ll fucking slice you!”
Randall stared defiantly at the teens, his fists clenched by his sides. He knew he could take the little punks. Then he felt Charles’s body press closer to him, and Charles whisper, “Let’s just give it to them, please Randall, we don’t want any trouble.”
Charles was shaking. Randall turned to look at Charles, and seeing his distress, knew that now was not the time to play hero.
“Alright, alright.” Randall agreed. They both handed over their wallets and phones, and the teenagers ran off.
Randall helped Charles to a bench and they sat together silently for some minutes as Charles recovered his composure.
“Shit, that was scary,” Charles tried to smile as Randall put his arm around his shoulders.
“Yeah, it was,” Randall smiled back. “You did well, buddy.”
“You were going to fight them weren’t you? You would have, wouldn’t’ve you if I hadn’t given in so easily?”
Randall smiled again, “No, no. You were right. Like they say, discretion is the better part of valor.” He slapped Charles playfully on the knee. “Come on let’s get home, and report this.”
Once home, showered and changed they visited the police station. Even though Charles pleaded that he was still too shaken to walk, Randall convinced him that the two-block walk would do him good.
The handsome young officer at the desk who took their report was quite considerate and asked for the details gently and slowly. Randall thought he was quite nice, in oh, so many ways. However Charles grabbed Randall’s hand when officer said, “Yes, from the description it seems these are the same guys that mugged an old couple a few days ago, and we think they’re the ones responsible for a couple of holdups. That one at the gift shop on Front Street, and the beauty salon on Main.”
“Oh, my god,” Charles moaned. “Our gallery’s on Main.”
Randall patted Charles on the shoulder and softly said, “Don’t worry, they wouldn’t worry about an art gallery.” And to the officer he asked, “What? No liquor shops or convenience stores?”
“No. No, not so far,” the officer said. “I guess they thought a gift shop and a beauty salon were easier targets. I think you’re lucky with your mugging though, at the beauty salon they produced a gun, and just a knife for you and the others.”
“Lucky?!” Charles almost screamed. “My god this is Missoula not New York or LA. And we’re lucky because he had a knife.”
Realizing he may have over stepped some mark, the officer tried to placate Charles, but Charles was almost in tears. So Randall simply thanked the officer politely and ushered Charles out of the station.
On the way back home, they called into the DMV to arrange replacements for their driver’s licenses, only to find, after waiting in line for the usual interminable time, that they would have to come back with some identification, a birth certificate, a passport or a driver’s license. The fact that they had had their licenses stolen and therefore couldn’t produce a license to get a license and the comic routine that could have ensued from such an endless loop was lost on Randall, Charles, and the uncaring clerk.
After opening the gallery, albeit somewhat later than normal, the rest of the morning was spent on the phone for the tiresome chore of canceling credit cards and cell phone accounts.
By lunchtime Charles had calmed down, and Randall decided to break the normal routine of one of them going out to bring back sandwiches for lunch, and closed the gallery so he could take Charles to their favorite café just down the street. They both always found the Old World atmosphere of the café soothing and relaxing, and by early afternoon they felt that some manner of normality was returning to their life.
The next couple of weeks passed in their regular rhythmic repetition with walk-in customers to serve, tire-kickers “just looking”, internet orders to pack and send, and artistic egos to deal with. The easy banter between them as they worked returned, and with the issuance of their new licenses and credit cards, the purchase of new phones, and the preparation for the looming cocktail party, the mugging was becoming but a faint memory.
On the afternoon of the soiree they decided to close the gallery early in order to prepare for the evening’s festivities. They needed to clear the client desk for use as a serving buffet, and it wouldn’t be long before the party hire people would arrive with the extra stand-up cocktail tables and the few chairs for the more elderly clients, then the caterers and wait staff would arrive.
“Oh, do hurry Randall,” Charles called as he unplugged the cash register ready to carry out of sight into the workroom. Secretly Charles always thought it too gauche to have the register in plain sight during what he considered a more social than sales gathering. To Charles the presence of a cash receptacle would too harshly illuminate the callous coldness of the symbiotic relationship between commerce and creativity. He always argued though that the practical purpose was so that the cherrywood cabinet could served as a drinks station.
Charles lifted the cash register and called again to Randall, “Come on sweetheart, please come and close up.”
Randall sauntered out of the workroom and headed for the gallery’s front door. He was at the door fumbling in his pocket for the key to lockup when suddenly the door burst open and two young teenagers burst in, with the force flinging Randall backwards. He fell to the floor, cracking his head on the edge of a display platform and lay there dazed as one of the teenagers stood over him brandishing a knife.
The other teenager, with gun in hand, rushed towards Charles. “Open the register!” the thug demanded. “Give it over!”
Recognising the teens as the ones that had mugged them Charles screamed and in his panic simply threw the cash register at the threat. Surprised, the teen ducked, but unfortunately this action only brought his head into the path of the cash register. It struck him, knocking him to the floor unconscious.
The second teen left his spot standing over Randall and rushed towards his fallen accomplice and the fear-frozen Charles. Charles frantically looked about for a safe place or escape route, but there was no way passed the approaching menace. Charles turned and scampered behind the Angel.
Charles watched through the twisted metal form of the Angel as the teen bent over his unconscious companion. When the would be thief looked up threateningly at Charles cowering behind the statue, Charles let out a little whimper.
He glanced towards the door and saw Randall slowly and unsteadily getting to his feet. Charles took a deep breath and pushing with all his might he managed to topple the Angel from its platform.
It fell to the floor, crushing both the teenagers.
Charles ran to meet Randall, and together they stood looking down at the bent and mangled statue and the two bloodied bodies beneath it.. Welds and bolts had given way, both wings had cracked and detached, and broken off metal strips and clumps of chicken wire lay scattered about.. Lying among the debris, one of the teenagers appeared to be wearing a crown of gold barbed wire; an overhead spotlight cast an eerie glow over the tableau.
Randall and Charles stood for while, hugging each other.
Randall comforted Charles, “Oh, Charles, you did so well, buddy. You were very brave, and so clever to push over the sculpture.”
“I-I- just didn’t think. I just did it.. But,” and he looked up at Randall, “But, I broke it.”
Randall laughed, “Yes, you did. Yes, you did. Destroyed it in fact.” He hugged Charles again, “But worth it, Charles. You, and the Angel, saved us but I don’t think it can be fixed.”
“Pity. I’m really beginning to like it.”