Creative Differences
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"…can't reach me, look to Field Officer Fitzgerald - behind the bar, the one with the shaved head. Work with a soft touch tonight, team. It's not about the loot we take away, it's about the discord we leave behind. Chapman's out of bounds, but the artists are the weak link here, so go ahead and bring 'em down a few pegs."
- MTF Mu-3 Squad Leader Al Yorston

The venue looked perfect; understated extravagance, glamorous without being tacky. The marble floor sparkled and the chandeliers dangled and Emma Martin hated every part of it. The deep blues and layered paint on the canvasses seemed shallow and insignificant in the enormous room, and her sculptures, the ones with the unnatural angles and textured meanings which cast impossible shadows, were drowned out in cloying, heavy light. Goddamn it! This was Melbourne, this was her city. And the auction, her art was being displayed at a fucking casino instead of the studio, her studio. This was shaping up to be worse than the fiasco in Milan.

Lost in her thoughts, Emma didn't pay any mind to James' nervous hand-wringing - didn't realize that it precipitated the approach of their benefactor, the broker.

"Hello, Miss Martin."

Forcing a smile, she turned and greeted Gerald Chapman. James nodded vaguely, carefully avoiding eye contact with the man.

"We've run into a … problem. With one of the installations," Gerald flatly informed her.

Already following him across the floor between individual displays and clusters of viewers, she asked which installation it was. James tagged along behind Emma like a shadow.

"The car. With the reality bending windscreen."

Emma's brow furrowed. "Ivan's Bentley? What problem; what happened?"

This project was Ivan's pride and joy; he would have liked to showcase it at Sommes-Nous Devenus Magnifiques?, but hadn't been able to acquire the necessary materials before this 'sponsorship deal', as he insistently termed their relationship with Marshall, Carter, and Dark. That modified Bentley was a life-changing expression of powerlessness and anxiety and-

"It crashed."

"What do you mean 'it crashed'? The car doesn't move, Gerald."

"It's not supposed to move. But the wheel blocks failed… somehow… and it fell from its pedestal."

Emma's heart sank as they came upon the wreckage in the foyer. The rear end of the car pointed at an angle toward the ceiling, the crumpled front end rested on the ground, the dented chassis hung up on the edge of the raised platform. Men in clean gray coveralls - contracted labourers - buzzed about the scene, tidying up broken glass and debris while incoming guests were ushered around the now-ruined central display. "All four of the wheel blocks?"

Mr Chapman's typically stoic face, Emma noticed, betrayed a flicker of frustration. "Yes, all four. Can you think of how that possibly might have happened?" Emma tried to think of how to respond, but came up with nothing. James shrunk even further behind her, like a nervous toddler. Thankfully, Gerald's attention shifted to one of the labourers. "You! Don't junk that. I want all those glass bits bagged up and brought to the back office, understood?" The man in coveralls nodded as he tipped the contents of his dustpan into a bag.

"That's the car out of action. Got us a sample of that glass too, it's stuck to the underside of catering's trolley number seven right now. … No, they can't pin the accident on anyone. We're good."
- MTF Mu-3 Agent Hardy

Ivan was smiling. The party guests he was speaking to, a jolly heavyset man and his beautiful wife (or maybe his beautiful mistress, Ivan hadn't asked), drifted away into the crowd. Meanwhile Emma approached hesitantly; James was in tow, and even more hesitant.

"Em," Ivan spun around and beamed at her. This uncharacteristically chipper mood was making breaking the news about the car harder than it already was. "Guess what? This couple was just telling me what huge fans they are of Oswaldo. And you'll never guess what."

"Ivan,"

"They loved - loved! - Smith's Last Ride. That lady, she really got it, you know? Really appreciated what I was aiming for. And the guy, he's just gotta have it, he says. He'll pay whatever it takes, he says."

"Ivan…"

"I almost hate to see it go like that, y'know? But man, that big commish might finally put us over. Just what we need to finally cut these strings loose, know what I mean? Like, how long do we really want to keep all this going? When do we get back to working for us, right?"

"Ivan!"

"… What?"

"Yeah, we gassed him up good. … And he'll hear about the other bit soon enough? … Well, we'll see what happens. Won't be anything good, I don't think."
- MTF Mu-3 Agent McCray

"WHAT!"

If anyone's attention wasn't drawn by the shocked outburst, the drink glass shattering on the floor got it done.

"No! NO! What?! Nooo!"

"Ivan, calm down."

"How can they let that happen? How?!" Ivan paced and fumed. "These vultures! High flying scavengers! Useless fucking swine!"

Two members of the event's security staff were closing the distance to the outraged artist. Ivan, unexpectedly, snatched the drink from the hand of the nearest guest too stunned to react. He raised it above his head and, for half a second looked as though he might whip it at one of the guards. But instead he threw it down on the same spot as his first glass, then turned away and stormed to the exit.

In but a moment the tense atmosphere evaporated, and the event resumed its previous gaiety. So such was the case for the guests; Gerald Chapman's tension was still running high as he strode rapidly across the room. His stoic composure was past its limits.

With a nod of her head, Emma bid James to go after Ivan; keep him from more trouble, much as it's possible. And to spare James whatever Gerald was about to unload on them now.

"What in the hell was that?"

"What do you think, Gerald? He's upset because you let his work ge-"

"No," he cut her off. "This is unacceptable. Do you even realize how many tantrums I've had to put up with from you lot? Do you have any idea the stresses I endure trying to make you and your little friends here into something worth a damn?"

A dour look shaded Emma Martin's face as Mr. Chapman carried on. She had heard enough. She raised a hand, palm outward, bidding a moment of silence. "Not. Now."

Chapman glared harshly. "We will talk after this."

"Negative, do not pursue. … Don't let the real goons get him either. … The artists walk. Period. They've played perfectly for us tonight, it's the least we can do.
-MTF Mu-3 Squad Leader Al Yorston

Emma found herself standing at the bar, staring down a cocktail. She had ordered it and stood and stared for what seemed like forever. A voice brought her back to the moment.

"Your order alright, ma'am?"

"Oh," she looked up. "Yes, thank you." She took a sip and smiled politely at the bartender.

He nodded and smiled back. Glancing down the length of the bar and seeing no waiting orders he turned to her. "So," he gestured broadly toward the party. "What do you think about all this?"

Emma gave the bartender a curious look. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I mean you don't look like a lot of the other ladies here tonight - oh, no offense - what I mean to say is, you look like you're really here for the art. Like you know your stuff."

'Of course I do' Emma thought to herself. 'Does he not recognize who I am?'

"So I'm wondering if you think all this dressing suits the scene, or is it maybe a bit too… like, commercial?"

Emma's eyes widened. She sucked on her straw to mask any larger reaction. 'Too commercial, he said?' She drained her glass and was slurping at ice.

"Get you one more of those?"

"Please."

While he poured and mixed, she thought back on this past year. How much had she really enjoyed it? How many pieces had she made and felt no connection with? How many times had she been talked down to and pushed around by this broker fellow? She thought about what Ivan had said earlier, about cutting the strings loose. 'When do we get back to working for us?'

"Here you are, ma'am."

"Well, what do you think? Is all of this stuff here 'too commercial'?"

"Oh, I dunno ma'am. I mean, I'm sure I've heard that real artists don't do it for the money, or something like that probably." With a shrug he added "But hey, ya gotta live, right?"

A thirsty patron down the bar drew the bartender away from the conversation, but Emma spoke anyway to the back of his shaved head.

"Yes," she resolved. "I have got to live."

"Yeah chief, I'm pretty sure we clinched it. … Follow-up monitoring will confirm. But I don't think this will be going any further. … Small victories, chief. Small victories.
- MTF Mu-3 Field Officer Fitzgerald

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