Love, Artifacts, and You by Sarah Ready
I lean backin my leather desk chair and give a wry smile. I’m ninety stories above the streets of Manhattan, in my office, and, some might say, on top of the world.
I own the building, this and a dozen others. In each one, I have an office on the top floor. When I made my first million dollars, I promised myself that from then on I’d always be able to see the sky. So far, I’ve kept that promise.
I spread my hands out on the wide mahogany desk and reach for the manila folder sitting in front of me. I’ve been delaying looking at it, but it’s time.
I open it and slowly flip through. The neatly printed pages are a blur of black ink.
This is it.
Five years after clawing my way out of the jungle, five years of selling my soul for money and influence, I’ve finally brought down Castleton.
But surprisingly, there’s no thrill of success, no satisfaction, no catharsis. In fact, there’s a distinct lack of feeling about the whole thing. I always imagined the satisfaction or relief I would feel when I took away everything Emma and her father loved, but…it’s not there.
I glance at the Castleton, Inc. bankruptcy filing, the sale of their homes, the auction of their heirlooms and possessions. I pause and linger over the article with Emma’s image—the word fake stamped over her face.
Finally, feeling courses through me. I scowl, because I recognize the emotion. It’s the same one I had in the mine when I dreamed of seeing the sun. The aching in the chest, the raw desire like you’re trying to reach something outside of yourself but know that you can’t.
The feeling is yearning.
Yearning for her.
I snap the file shut and throw it on my desk. The documents fly out of the folder and spread across the polished wood surface. Emma stares up at me from the photograph. I grit my teeth and quash the yearning.
The mahogany door to my office swings open and my partner, Dominic Sato, strolls in. I push the papers into the folder and then lean back in my leather chair.
“Dom,” I say in greeting.
“Finished the auction,” he says. He strolls over to the built-in mahogany bar and takes down a glass. “The Ming went for twenty-two million.”
I shrug, I figured twenty-one and a half. It was an imperial Ming vase similar to another that recently sold for twenty-one at Sotheby’s.
Dom opens the bar freezer, grabs a few cubes of ice and drops them in his glass. He looks up at the wall of glass shelves lined with single malts, gin and vodka, but doesn’t reach for a bottle.
“It’s on the second shelf,” I say.
“Aha.” Dom grabs the gin and splashes a healthy dose into his cup. He tops it off with tonic. Then he crosses the office and leans on the edge of my desk.
“Cheers,” he says.
Dom swallows a mouthful of the gin and tonic. I lean back and look out the floor-to-ceiling windows of my office. Manhattan is spread out beneath me. I have one of the best views in the city. I can see the silver shine of the sun reflecting off the top of the Chrysler Building and the crisp blue sky above the shadowed streets.
“How was Singapore?” Dom asks.
“The same.” I just flew back from Singapore this morning. Dominic and I own Suffolk Auction House, with locations in New York, London and Singapore. I met Dom in a bar in Cartagena, Colombia. I had a pocketful of gemstones and the burning desire to find and sell rare goods until I became so rich that I could make anything happen. Dom, a wealthy, entitled American, was bored and had the burning desire to prove to his family that he was more than a polo-playing second son. We both succeeded. The partnership works because, like my uncle said, I’m an artifact bloodhound. I have the uncanny ability to find priceless items. And Dom has the uncanny ability to put prices on priceless items and sell them for exorbitant amounts.
I haven’t hunted artifacts since I was with Castleton. Instead, I go to estate sales, small auctions, markets in forgotten corners of the world, small villages lost to time, and the items seem to find me. Five-thousand-year-old vases, jewelry worn by queens, paintings by the masters—it’s all out there, waiting to be found.
“So. Emma Castleton,” Dom says.
I jerk, startled, then force myself to relax. I look at him and narrow my eyes. I’ve never mentioned Emma to him.
“Who?” I ask.
Dom smiles, strolls across the office to the windows and sets his glass on the sill. He looks down at the street and then up at the Chrysler Building. Dom has a habit of silence, thinking that if he waits long enough I’ll speak. It works on other people, but never on me. Finally, Dom turns away from the view of the city.
“Seeing the world from up here sometimes makes me forget how we got our start,” he says. He puts his hands in his pockets and leans against the glass. “I was on my way to the bottom, drinking myself through South America, and you, well, you were on your way to prison.”
I lift a corner of my mouth. Dom likes to exaggerate. He calls it marketing, I call it bull.
“The day we met, outside that bar, you got drunk. It’s the one and only time I’ve ever seen you drink.”
“True.” I realized the day after I met Dom, during a head-splitting hangover, that alcohol would easily prevent me from achieving my goals. The oblivion of drink was almost as appealing as revenge. So, I swore it off.
Dom continues, “And you told me about a girl named Emma, who had eyes like stars and freckles like the milky way.”
My skin goes cold. Dom watches me. He’s my friend and my partner and he’s seen the way I’ve driven myself to get where I am. He never asked what drove me or what was in my past. I figured it didn’t matter.
“There are plenty of girls named Emma,” I say.
Dom’s eyes flick down to the manila folder on my desk.
“Are there?” he asks.
I resist the urge to put the file away in a drawer and instead I stand and walk to the window. The carpet of the office is soft and thick under my feet. When the interior designers put together our headquarters, they wanted the offices to exude luxury. They succeeded. My office is the perfect example. The hand-crafted bar, the designer couches and antique mahogany desk, the Chihuly glass sculpture hanging from the ceiling, it all boldly declares that Suffolk Auction House is the epitome of refined luxury. The entry to the building has a thirty-foot modern art sculpture and a waterfall—it never fails to awe people and encourage them to part with millions at our auctions.
The lights of the chandelier reflect in the window. The sun has nearly set and my reflection looks back at me from the window. My image is indistinct and I don’t look closely. I know what I’ll see. A black haired, hard-eyed man, with no softness to him, wearing a twenty-thousand-dollar suit and a quarter-of-a-million-dollar watch. I see what everyone else sees: money and power. A man who has more.
My mouth twists.
I turn away from the image of myself. “I’m headed out,” I say.
“I’m headed down too,” Dom says.
I slip the file and my laptop into my briefcase. Dom doesn’t say anything until we make it to the street. I turn north and walk up the crowded sidewalk. Business suit-clad people are heading toward the subways and hailing cabs. There’s a line of thirty or so people waiting for their turn at a food cart. The heat of summer, the steam and musty smell from the subway grates, the smell of car fumes, food carts and hot pavement mix together to make the unique scent of New York. I used to wonder if I’d ever come across Emma. I’m in New York a few weeks every year. But then I realized, even if I did, she wouldn’t recognize me. I look nothing like my eighteen-year-old self.
“I met Emma Castleton once. Years ago, at her debutante ball,” Dom says casually.
I look at him from the side of my eyes and carefully keep from clenching my jaw. “Don’t you live in Soho?” I ask. It’s a rhetorical question. He does. He should be heading south, and I should be in the backseat of my Maybach, being driven back to my penthouse apartment.
But Dom wants to talk, and I’ll listen.
“She came with Justin Van Cleeve. He and I went to school together. Still meet up to play tennis a few times a year.”
I’m not surprised. Dom grew up in the circle of New York elite and knows all the best families. It’s part of what makes him so good at what he does. I know most of them now too. In New York, London and Singapore. They accept me as one of their own.
I stop at the intersection and wait for the light. A crowd gathers around us, a great mass of people crowded together, waiting to cross.
“Do you remember what else you said at that bar?” Dom asks.
I look over at him. He stares straight ahead at the crossing light.
“No.” I don’t remember the conversation at all. Although I do remember bottles of rum and racing turtles and a handshake sealing our partnership.
The light changes and we move forward across the street with the mass of people. Taxis honk and people talk on cellphones or to each other. A jackhammer sounds in the distance. When I first got here the noise of the city was too much after the dark silence of the mine. I would retreat to the center of Central Park and pull in deep, gasping breaths, then I’d emerge onto the street again and push myself back into it.
We get to the sidewalk and Dom says, “You took your rum bottle, lifted it up and toasted, ‘To Emma, the most heartless, coldest bitch in the world, someday I’ll have enough money to satisfy even your greedy heart.’ Sound familiar?”
A prickling travels over my spine. “Not really. Doesn’t sound like me.”
“Agreed. You avoid women in favor of merciless business hours.” Dom shrugs. “Frankly, I forgot the conversation. At least, until Van Cleeve mentioned the Castletons last month at tennis. He told me about how they’d been losing contracts, losing credibility, losing investments.”
We turn down a side street to avoid another mass of people waiting for the light to change.
Dom continues, “Look, I’m all for destroying the competition. I’ve done my share of it, and enjoyed the hell out of it. Plus, Edward Castleton is a bona fide bastard. I can’t say he didn’t deserve a comeuppance.”
“But,” I say. I can hear the “but” in his voice. Dom has a softer heart than me. Hell, a rock has a softer heart than me.
“But nothing,” he says.
We move into another crowd of people streaming out of an office building. A young boy zigzags through them, bumps into me and grips my jacket to steady himself. Before he can dart away I reach out and grab his arm.
“Hey!” he shouts. He’s skinny and pale. He’s wearing dirty shorts and a torn shirt and is probably about fourteen. And he’s as slippery as a fish. I hold his arm tight.
“What’s up?” asks Dom.
“Hand it over,” I say.
The people walking by part around us. No one glances our way.
“Hand what over? Let go of me,” says the boy. I have to hand it to him, he’s got bravado.
I consider him for a second, then give his hidden pocket a thwack. My wallet falls to the sidewalk—along with a watch, a small clutch and a billfold.
Dom lets out a low whistle.
I grab my wallet and put it back in my inner pocket.
“Hey mister, that other stuff is mine. You can’t take it,” says the boy, bold as they come.
“Is that so?” says Dom. “I’ll call the police.” He pulls out his phone, but I hold up my free hand and gesture for him to wait.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
The boys eyes dart around and he nervously licks his lips. “Johnny,” he says.
Which is a fake name. No doubt about it.
“Alright, Johnny,” I say. “We’ll be taking these other items to the police.”
He scoffs but then goes silent.
“You need to stop stealing,” I say. The boy gets an angry, mulish expression.
“Sure thing, Mr. Rolex, I’ll do that real soon.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or shake him. “Listen to me. If you need money, come to Suffolk Auction House. Tell the security guard at the front desk, his name’s Stefan, that I sent for you. I’ll get you a job.”
“Uh huh, right. Sure thing, mister.”
Then, faster than I can respond, the boy twists his arm free, bends down, scoops up the items on the ground, and takes off down the sidewalk. It takes half a second.
I stare after him, then pat my pocket to make sure my wallet’s still there.
Dom laughs and shakes his head. “You can’t save all of them.”
I watch as the boy disappears around the corner. “I know,” I say.
“Do you?” he asks. “There’s Henry and Ollie in London. Lim and Aria in Singapore. The boy in Cairo, oh and who was it in Tangier?”
“Karim,” I say. He was stealing to buy medicine for his mother. She isn’t sick any longer thanks to a stay in a nice private hospital.
We start to walk again. I’m surprised to see we’ve walked a long rectangle and are nearly back to our building. We slow and then stop by the entrance. We’re close enough that I can hear the sound of the waterfall when the door to the lobby opens as people exit.
“Right,” Dom says. He puts his hands in his pockets and leans against the glass side of our building. The Suffolk Auction House sign is illuminated above him. “Look. I’m going to be straight with you. I don’t know what grudge you have against Castleton, but I know you’re in love with his daughter.”
At his words I let out a surprised laugh. “Is that what you call it?”
Dom looks up at the darkening sky, brightened by the lights of the buildings.
“I met Van Cleeve for tennis yesterday. He told me Emma’s in a little town Upstate called Romeo. That she’s digging for some lost treasure. He thinks she’ll clear her name. Make the name Castleton great again.”
“Not likely,” I say.
Dom shrugs, “Who’s to say?”
A sudden spark of anticipation lights in me.
The dull, empty feeling I had earlier recedes.
It’s not over yet. That’s why I didn’t feel satisfied. Because Emma’s not ruined, she’s not devastated. I still have more to do. For instance, I could find a lost treasure in a small town before Emma lays her hands on it.
“Did you know,” I say, “I’ve been thinking about taking a trip Upstate for quite some time. Maybe you can do without me for a week or two.”
Dom nods. “I think I can do that.”
“Good.” My mind’s whirring, thinking, planning, anticipating.
Can I do this? Should I? I glare down at the sidewalk. Of course I should. If I don’t, what’s been the point of any of this?
“One more thing Van Cleeve said.”
“What’s that?” I ask, distractedly.
“Van Cleeve said he proposed.”
I look at Dom, “Proposed what?”
Dom shakes his head. “Marriage. He asked Emma to marry him.”
The noise of traffic and the city streets fades, and there’s a distant howling in my ears.
“Andrew? Did you hear me?”
I swallow and shake my head.
“She’s getting married,” he says.
The New York sky is dark and the city lights look like stars. Suddenly, I’m back in the tent with Emma.
“We’d be married?” I whisper to her. I brush my lips over her mouth.
She smiles at me. “Mhmm.”
Then the scene morphs and I see her smiling at Van Cleeve, holding The Heart.
A taxi honks and I’m back in Manhattan, in the present. And the current me, the one who knows that the Emma of my dreams isn’t the real Emma, knows exactly what to do. How to finally end this.
I’m headed to Romeo, to make Emma fall in love.
So I can break her heart.