Excerpt: The Gallery: The Special Exhibits
Alonso waited until the car started to move, then shoved open the door, threw himself out, rolled to his feet and bolted into the crowd of people packing the city square. The squeal of tires and angry shouts behind him were quickly lost in the ruckus.
Like hell he was going to yet another one of his father’s dinners. He was tired of it all. One more stupid glad-handing dinner with all those backstabbing barracudas, and he was going to have a fourth murder to his name.
Grimacing, he walked faster, ducked down an alleyway, then down a side alley. He tested doors as he went, finally hitting pay dirt about halfway down. There was always at least one dumbass who forgot to lock up properly. He slipped inside what proved to be a storage room, dusty and neglected, smelling of mice and dirt.
Locking the door behind him, he pushed through the junk-ridden room, wondering what in the hell kind of business he was in that allowed so much crap to pile up, and why they would use a room connected to the back exit for storage. Sloppy and stupid—what if there was a fire, or some other reason they had to get out quickly? It didn’t take being the son of a Congressman slash black magic practitioner to know you should always have clear exits.
Reaching the door that led to the main part of the building, Alonso paused, pressed his ear against the door, and listened carefully for several minutes. Nothing. He grasped the knob, pulled the door open the barest bit, and then listened again. Still nothing.
He continued the process for several minutes, opening the door a little more, listening, eventually adding looking, until he was confident he would not be immediately caught. Slipping out of the grimy storage room, he stepped into a narrow hallway. There were a few more doors along it, some marked as further storage, another office, another mailroom. The last said ‘gallery,’ and the words shimmered funny, like they were made of holographic paint or something—but there wasn’t any light to set it off.
Hmmm. The back of Alonso’s neck prickled, but his only other option was to go back outside, and that wasn’t happening. His father would have people combing the city by now, and Alonso wasn’t going back. Not now. Not ever.
He closed the door quietly behind him and looked around. As promised by the weird sign on the door, he was in a gallery. The room he’d stepped into was filled with paintings that seemed to have an ocean theme, from a beautiful mermaid with terrifying teeth to a statue of a giant octopus-like thing in an enormous tank of water right in the center, with several more paintings scattered about.
The odd thing was that they all seemed to be paintings of individual people, minus one that seemed to have three. There were no landscapes, nothing with several people, no abstracts or modern art. Just people—well, beings, anyway, or did a mermaid count as people? His knowledge was limited to demons, and they did not count as people.
He continued on, careful to ensure his steps were always quiet, wending through room after room, but never finding an entrance or other way out of the gallery. After a few minutes, he couldn’t even find his way back to the storage room.
Alonso sighed. This latest room had paintings portraying a woman brushing her hair, a man reading a book, another man working on a car, and a man and woman dancing in a field of fireflies.
The one thing all the paintings had in common was that each subject looked sad somehow. It was nothing obvious. They were smiling or relaxed or focused on their work—but the sadness was there, deep down. Like…Alonso frowned thoughtfully. Like they were waiting, he decided, waiting for something they were increasingly sure would never come.
Shaking off the strange thought, reminding himself he needed to keep moving or he risked being found and dragged back to the Land of Political Fuckwittery, he walked onward, through another room and another.
Eventually, he was forced to concede he was lost. All he had found was a labyrinth of galleries and a single door that was marked ‘permanent exhibits, closed until further notice.’ That door was sealed with magic so heavy it had left his skin tingling and his hand numb for twenty minutes after he had tried to open it.
Really, he should have caught on faster than the entire damn place was magic.
Sighing, Alonso sat down on a plush bench in a secluded little corner gallery that he had not managed to come across before, though he swore he had seen every room in the place at least three times.
It had only three paintings in it, and the lights over each painting were red, purple, and blue respectively. He half thought someone had wanted the room to be forgotten, overlooked.
Alonso sighed again and leaned his head against the wall, ignoring the paintings even as curiosity nagged him. Though he loved art and normally would have been more than happy to examine each painting for hours at a time, right now he was acutely aware that if he did not get a move-on soon, he would miss his flight and be back in his father’s grasp before morning.
And though he had no qualms with killing, he did not want to go to jail for it—at least, not because he finally snapped and shot his father point blank in the face. Not that a man with demons under his thumb would die that easily.
His hands curled into fists briefly before he made himself relax.
He finally looked at the latest paintings more closely, as he apparently had nothing better to do until the gallery and its strange magic saw fit to let him go. No point in continuing to waste energy. He’d learned a long time ago not to fight with magic.