Alfrid had sight of him: location Gallery 2. Using the zoom function on the security camera monitor, he watched awhile, as the man lightly stroked a high value piece with his fingertips.
“Excuse me sir!” Alfrid yodelled, skidding to a stop on the polished gallery floor. “You can’t touch this.”
Surrounded by non-figurative paintings on the walls were five sculptures, located near the centre of the room. Each, human-sized in scale, formed from richly veined marble and oil-finished ash timber, broadly cylindrical and smooth. Bored into the sides, round-shaped holes added interest, some through the marble, other holes appearing in the wood. Naturally, the sculptures called out to be touched and the man doing the touching, stood dressed in full military fatigues.
“I sanitized my hands thoroughly.” He said, pulling away sharply from the sculpture he’d been caught fondling. “At the entrance, when I came in.” He held his hands up in front of his chest, palms showing, his long fingers stretching outwards.
“Well …” Alfrid hesitated. Abstract words collided with each other inside his mind, while he tried to formulate a coherent sentence.
“I thought the problem with touching, had to do with dirt and grease from people’s hands, transferring onto the sculpture.” The army man looked at the gallery custodian, appealing for a judgement. “Coupled with the passage of time, it’s these minute abrasives and oils which cause the damage.”
“Look, it’s just, if I say ‘yes’ to you,” Alfrid’s voice vibrated with a conciliatory tone, “you know what I mean?”
“Others will think it’s alright to touch the exhibits too?”
“That’s right, sir.”
“Although,” the military man countered, “there’s no one else in here, just you and I. No one else will see me touching.” Both men threw glances around the room, unnecessarily.
Alfrid placed his hands on his hips; he felt close to conceding the point. Staring out through the shopfront earlier, had demonstrated the street outside as empty. No cars, no people, no stray dogs, no vapour trails intersecting across the blue sky. Following the second-wave onslaught of the virus pandemic, this had become the new normal.
The telephone at the reception in Gallery 1 rang. “One moment, please.” Alfrid said, raising a relaxed index finger up in the air, as he backed out of the space.
Another shift was underway, taking place in a windowless, open-plan office. Sat in front of a computer screen and keyboard, equipped with a phone headset, Agneta’s morning had started well. Out of a running total of ninety-five calls made so far, twenty-five had picked-up and answered. Already, she’d extracted one set of personal details: a name, address, date of birth, email address, home-owner status, employer and name of bank. To avoid suspicion, her task list excluded obtaining card numbers, security and sort code information. This responsibility passed across to the organisation’s second-stage caller.
During her coffee-break, she’d tuned-in to a consumer radio show, coincidentally warning against unsolicited telephone and email scams. Agneta admitted to a warped sense of humour. She’d enjoyed listening to the angry tirade from outraged victims and the sanctimonious comments from the presenter. She had even toyed with the idea of phoning-in with an opinion from her own perspective.
I’d desperately needed a job, she’d imagined herself saying, I came to this country with exemplary qualifications in business studies and I end up here! What does that say about your precious country? But, she’d resisted. What if one of the bosses had been listening and recognised her voice? It wasn’t worth the risk.
“Good morning, may I speak to Mr Alfrid Vlachavel please.” She said, delivering her request in an educated and assertive tone.
“This is Vlachavel,” the voice on the other end replied, “to whom am I speaking and how may I be of assistance?”
“Mr Vlachavel, my name is Agneta, how are you today?”
“Agneta, I am fine thank you. You know, that’s a favourite name of mine. I knew someone once called Agneta.” She heard her target chuckle to himself, “It’s not you is it Agneta, from Ekerö?”
“Ah, no sir, sorry sir. I know Ekerö well. But, I am from Tyresö on the Baltic coast, within the same county as Ekerö. You have visited before?
“I have, although many years ago now. Those were good times.”
“Oh, I am pleased to hear you found enjoyment, sir.”
“Yes, well, anyway Agneta from Tyresö, how exactly may I help?”
“Okay, perhaps you can, thank you sir.” She had a good feeling about this call. “I represent a highly reputable lawyer’s firm who specialise in court claims on a ‘no win – no fee’ basis. Today, you are chosen to receive our special, discounted rates and I must stress, this is for a limited time only. According to our records and most unfortunately sir, we understand you were recently involved in a road traffic accident.”
“Oh shit!” Alfrid Vlachavel abruptly hung up the connection.
He cocked his head over, quietened his breathing, stood still and listened. Thirty seconds passed in silence. Confident the danger of observation had passed, Captain Nolan kicked off his boots, pulled of his socks and slipped out of his uniform, down to white underpants. In a practised fashion, he folded his clothes and set them neatly on the floor. In accordance with a plan committed to memory, four of the sculptures were slid towards the centre of the room, one at a time, closely encircling the fifth piece.
With the assistance of a plastic chair, the soldier raised himself up and placed a foot into a hole of the nearest sculpture. Whitening toes gripped tight against the cold marble. With precision, he pulled his body-weight upwards like it was his last chance; muscles flexed in his thighs.
Moving around to establish a steady balance, he poked his other foot into a wooden hole. With slight adjustments made to weight distribution, the captain slowly leaned backwards until horizontal and rested, hands clasped behind his head. Taking slow, controlled breaths, he opened out his arms, one hand finding a snug fit inside another hole, the other finished up resting on a curved surface.
“Eventually,” he said in a whisper, “the moment I’d put off for so long, has finally arrived.” Once again, using his free hand, the serviceman stroked marble, feeling the blemish-free surface under his touch. “This, is just heavenly,” he said, closing his eyes, “just heavenly.”
Several minutes passed without interruption, until a distant, raised voice carried through into the gallery space. Rapid footsteps echoed ever louder as they approached, followed by a sudden stillness. Strangled sounds of exasperation broke out, quickly evolving into a structured sentence.
“What, the fuck, are you doing?”
Given the situation, these words made perfect sense.
©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by a collage)