Home > The Red

The Red
Author: Tiffany Reisz

The Fox Hunt

It had always been called The Red Gallery, even before the gallery was red.

Originally it was called Red’s because a man named Red owned the place and for no other reason. Mona’s mother, however, said the name came from the 1920s when The Red was a speakeasy. So many people were killed during bloody gangster shootouts, she said, that the place had been nicknamed The Little Red Shooting Gallery. None of that was true, of course, but Mona’s mother had been the sort of woman who valued beauty over truth. She loved The Red Gallery and thought it deserved the very best origin story. Mona never passed on that fiction herself, but she never denied it either. She also kept the brick painted crimson and her own brown hair colored candy apple red.

It’s what her mother would have wanted.

Her mother had loved The Red Gallery so very much that her last words to Mona had been, "Do anything you have to, but save The Red.” And for that reason alone Mona sat at her desk in The Red Gallery long past closing time, adding up numbers again and again in the hopes of finding a misplaced zero somewhere, a zero that would turn assets of fifty thousand dollars into five hundred thousand dollars. She’d robbed Peter to pay Paul and now Peter was at the door and pounding. There was no one left to rob to pay him.

Unless she sold the gallery.

Why her mother loved this place so much Mona might never know. Oh, Mona loved The Red too, their little gallery on Savoy Street. She loved its painted red brick and glass storefront, the ebony-stained hardwood, the red velvet curtains along the walls that made the colors of the canvases pop like balloons. She loved the little office off the main gallery that had once been her mother’s but was now hers. She loved the storage room in the back where all the paintings and sculptures not currently on display were safely kept—a second private art gallery. What she didn’t love was the debt. If her mother had died a quick death, Mona might have been able to save the gallery. But she hadn’t. She’d been sick and had lingered for two years, getting a little better and then a little worse, better, then worse, a step forward, a fall back. In the end, all she could leave Mona was the deed to the gallery and a fortune in medical debt that her mother’s life insurance barely touched.

And no one gave a damn about art anymore.

She knew that wasn’t true, but all attempts to revitalize the gallery had failed. Up and coming artists had drawn young hip crowds. But while the hip young crowds were happy to drink the free wine and eat the free crackers and cheese, they didn’t buy the paintings. Older artists had flooded the markets with their works and were selling for peanuts, if they were selling at all. She’d tried to entice the estate of a recently deceased painter to give her the exhibition of his collection, but they’d gone with a bigger gallery uptown. She didn’t blame them. She might not have picked The Red Gallery either.

Today, she’d let go the very last member of her staff.

Except for Tou-Tou, of course. She’d never let go of Tou-Tou.

"Don’t worry,” she said to the little black cat curled up in the corner of her office in his bed. "If I sell the gallery, you won’t be homeless. You can come live with me.”

Tou-Tou—short for Toulouse-Lautrec—merely glanced in her direction, blinking his luminescent green eyes before returning to the task at hand, namely licking his right paw for the next ten minutes. Tou-Tou had been the gallery cat for ten years. Her mother had found the malnourished black kitten in an alley two streets away and had brought him here to nurse him back to health. He’d never gotten very big, but his coat was glossy and soft, his eyes bright, and his purrs loud enough to wake the dead. She wasn’t allowed pets in her apartment, but what her landlady didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Ten years. Mona had been fifteen when they found Tou-Tou. Ten years. Ten years ago the gallery had been the apple of Savoy Street, the darling of the art district. But rents had gotten too high and the galleries, one by one, had shut their doors or moved. Only The Red was left behind.

And now it would close its doors too.

Mona rose from her desk and walked to Tou-Tou’s bed. She stroked his head, his chin, pressed her hand to his side to feel that marvelous diesel engine purr. It comforted her. She whispered promises to Tou-Tou, that he would like it at her apartment. That she wasn’t firing him, she was selling the gallery. She told him to tell her mother—her mother had been certain cats could communicate with the dead—that Mona had done all she could to save The Red. No banks would loan her money. The credit cards were maxed. Bankruptcy was imminent. Art for art’s sake was a lovely idea in theory.

But art alone couldn’t pay the bills.

Mona stood up straight and squared her shoulders. The wall clock said it was almost midnight. Sometime in the last hour she’d made up her mind to sell. She felt better now that she’d acknowledged she had no choice but to sell. The numbers weren’t going to magically multiply no matter how long she stared at them. Might as well give up, go home, and sleep. She slung her black bag over her shoulder, took her red coat off the hook and laid it over her arm, slipped her feet back into her black heels and blew a goodnight kiss at Tou-Tou. Time to lock up. Time to give up. Except…

There was a man standing in the gallery.

Mona gasped, her hand over her mouth. It didn’t seem he had heard her gasp. He didn’t even turn to look at her. She swallowed hard, her heart running like the White Rabbit. He was tall and broad-shouldered and wore a three-piece black suit. He had one hand on his hip, one hand on his chin. Although his clothes were modern and he looked about forty years old, there was something about him that looked…old. No, not old. Old World, perhaps. Yes, that. Old World. She could think of no other way to describe him. It was the hair. That was it. He wore his hair in a style that would have best belonged on a Regency-era lord. Black and tousled, rakish even, he reminded her of Eugene Delacroix’s dashing self-portraits. Dark eyes, black heart. To Mona he looked like the devil gone courting.

But who was the devil’s lucky lady?

"Sir?” Mona finally worked up her courage to speak. "The gallery is closed.”

He didn’t speak at first. But he did move at last. He dropped his hand from his chin and stepped toward the small painting in front of him. It was a George Morland, a contemporary of Joshua Reynolds. Nothing terribly impressive about it. Merely an uninspired painting of men in red coats on horseback. A pretty painting, pretty and unobtrusive. Mona imagined an older couple looking to decorate a country house would take a shine to it. All it had done in the four months it hung on the gallery wall was gather dust.

"Things aren’t what they seem.”

His accent was English. She’d recognized those lovely vowels at once.

"No,” she said. "I imagine they aren’t.”

"I hear your gallery is closing,” he said. Again the right hand came to his chin, the left hand to his hip. The left hand drew her gaze. He was lean and the well-tailored vest emphasized his trim waist and hips. She was finding it very difficult not to enjoy looking at his body. The man was a work of art.

"Closed, I said. I told you the gallery is closed. It’s almost midnight.”

"You’re in the red.”

"So are you. That’s the name of the gallery.”

At that he turned and looked at her, met her eyes, smiled. She felt a current of fear run through her body, electric and exciting. Why hadn’t she dressed better today? She wore her plain tweed skirt, her plain black blouse, and plain black flats. She looked more like a secretary than a gallery owner. If only—secretaries made far more money than she did these days.

"You’re in the red,” he said again. "In debt, I mean.”

"What have you heard?” she asked. She knew local real estate developers could be aggressive when it came to prime property in prime locations. Had someone sent this man to force her to sell?

"I heard the gallery was in distress. Such a shame,” he said. "It’s a treasure trove.”

"It’s a money pit,” she said.

He arched an eyebrow at her. He looked even more like the devil than ever. A dashing devil. Despite her fear, she liked looking at him. He didn’t seem dangerous. No, he seemed terribly dangerous. But he didn’t seem violent. There was a difference.

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