Amateur Night

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Scene Title Amateur Night
Synopsis On the trail of the Brill paintings, Hagan does a lot of things that Laura will never let him live down.
Date February 17, 2009

Morningside Heights

Morningside Heights was and is still known for its high density of educational institutions. Most of the neighborhood is owned by Columbia University; the rest is shared with Barnard College, the Manhattan School of Music, the Teachers College, Columbia Greenhouse nursery school, and a variety of religious seminaries.

In addition to places like the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Morningside Park, the neighborhood boasts a variety of restaurants and clubs, excellent bookstores, and Mondel Chocolates, selling handmade chocolate candies even today.

Before the bomb, Morningside Heights was dominated by students. That is still the case today, but their majority is now far smaller — with Morningside being one of the neighborhoods least affected by the explosion, it has become a very popular place to live. Housing is extremely expensive, but people are willing to pay through the nose for a place they know is safe and sound — at least in structural terms. Population density is high; like everywhere else in the city, so is crime, although Morningside's biggest problems are theft and embezzlement. Along with the consequences of college parties and/or pranks.


Five paintings in the whole of New York City — Rupert Carmichael doesn't ask for much does he?

Two days of straight work hitting up galleries, exhibits and private collectors for even a hint of a lead. No one in the appreciable art community has heard of Thomas Brill at all; questions about the painter are met with confused and silent stares and awkward shakes of the head. That leaves Hagan O'Sullivan with a much more broad and much more difficult area of approach, asking around about any high-price painting purchases made in the last few weeks.

A few old friends at the Seiver's Gallery in Morningside Heights were the beginning of something resembling a lead for Hagan. According to the gallery owners, a private collector by the name of Aaron Rodgers had picked up several paintings from a public auction held three days ago. The paintings were sold in a lot, presumably reclaimed from unpaid storage containers — though most of the art community is aware that the auction is where a majority of stolen property is sold off to high bidders.

Among the lot sold, was a piece titled "Our Father" signed by an artist named Thomas Brill.

Aaron Rodgers is an eccentric recluse living in Morningside Heights in an expensive apartment n 112th street. The address afforded to him, Hagan O'Sullivan finds himself dropped off outside of a brick-faced four-story apartment building with a gabled roof and windows just beginning to flicker with lights as the sun starts to set beyond Manhattan. It's these twilight hours that afford the longest shadows amidst cloudless skies, times when Hagan is at his best.

And simultaneously, at his worst.

The questioning, Hagan could handle. The asking about, the hoofing it over the whole city were all things that he could handle. When leads came up dry continuously, the Irishman felt a sense of relief. Then he could return to Rupe and tell him he tried his best, but nothing could be done.

But something can be done, and that something seems to be trying to break into an expensive apartment. The two possible ideas rolled around in his head. He could pretend to be an art journalist or some kind of thing and drill this recluse. But honestly, he doesn't trust his verbal skills for that to get him anywhere.

Cloaked in shadow, he waits for someone to push open the door. Then, he moves quickly up behind and slips in as soundlessly as he can manage. The lobby breached and still invisible (it's far easier to bend shadows inside) he makes his way to the apartment of one Aaron Rodgers.

So the next part of the plan is deceptively simple. He moves up to the door and knocks. The invisible man at the door. Now he can only hope that Mister Rodgers swings the door open far enough for him to sneak inside. How he'll sneak back out again is a tricky question. He hasn't planned that far ahead.

The knock at the door of apartment 403 is rewarded with the sound of a small, yappy dog barking like the world is coming to an end. A few moments later there is a creaking of floorboards and a low guttural cursing, "Shut your mouth before I shut you!" Comes the response from the other side of the door. Light filtering out from beneath the door flickers as the shadow of feet are cast a few inches into the hall. The door creaks from weight leaned on it, the shadows of feet shuffle around, followed by more low cursing, "God damned kids."

The shadows by the door begin to shuffle away, parting from the door as it creaks again with pressure left from it. Recluse, the man at the gallery had called Mister Rodgers, recluse. Damnit.

With a dog. That makes wandering around in the shadows like he planned a lot harder. Hagan stands there and shuffles is feet on the spot. What to do, what to do? He's been learning how to pick locks, but even if he could manage to get past this door in a fancy apartment (doubtful) it's likely to have a chain lock. And there's also the problem of yippie dog.

So re-thinking is in order. Hagan heads back towards the exit. If anyone's watching from inside or the street, the door flaps open and closed without anyone passing through it. He heads around to the side of the building, searching for a fire escape or the windows into the old codger's place.

Back down on the street, the sun has set and the skies are a dark shade of midnight blue, with black silhouettes of skyscrapers bedecked with yellow lights rising up against the blue. Pacing back and forth across the front of the building, Hagan eventually finds one of the alleys alongside of the tenement building leads towards a fire escape. Of course, given that the bottom ladder isn't pulled down, it leaves Hagan staring up at a four foot divide between the upper reach of his arms and the lowest rung on the ladder. But that black iron fire escape does wind all the way up to the fourth floor, and apartment 403.

Letting his eyes wander the alley, Hagan notices a metal trashcan with a lid on it. It's just high enough that if he can balance on it, he can reach the rungs of the ladder. His eyes flick up to the black iron rungs again, then down to the trashcan.

Even after Abby gave him a clean bill of heath, Hagan is no athlete. He's practiced amateur martial arts, but he hasn't gone very often lately. He's doubtful that he could balance on top of the can. But at the very least, he's determined to know if the painting is indeed here.

He glances back out to the street, then reaches out to the shadows. He does what he can to block any light coming in to the alleyway to stop any curious passers-by from peering into the alleyway to witness what he's about to attempt.

As silently as he can, he moves the garbage can beneath the ladder. Then, using the building for support, he tries to stand on it and reach the ladder rungs. The whole time, he can't help but imagine how foolish he looks. He makes ads for tampons and Fisher Price for a living, for fuck's sake. He's a graphic designer, not a cat burgaler.

Those are the only thoughts that can rattle around in Hagan's mind as he shakily climbs up on top of the can, one hand on the wall, legs shaking as he reaches out for the ladder. Though when Hagan pulls his full weight down on it in an attempt to climb up, the ladder does what it is designed to do, it releases. The entire thing comes crashing down with a clanking rattle of shuddering metal, sending Hagan off balance and tumbling down to the pavement of the alleyway as the ladder crashes into the trashcan and sends it toppling over, spilling white plastic garbage bags across the ground. One spinach can rolls across the pavement past his head, coming to a stop showing the label face up.

Familiar — mockingly humbling even. He designed the label.

This is what happens when a guy who brought you the little dancing fellow on the cola ad tries to do shit he isn't trained for. It's a rather epic flail as Hagan tries to keep himself from ending face-down in the alley. He manages to regain enough of his balance that his knees get the brunt of it. But that means he really needs to lie down for a minute as sharp pain darts up through his skin. He finds himself face to face with the spinach can - the sum of his whole existence. He narrows his eyes at it, then reaches out a finger to touch the side. "Bloody… Print process bled the cyan."

Then he rolls over onto his back and lies there, prone for a moment, ladder dangling above him. The darkening New York sky winks above. He'll just…lie here in the quiet dark for a minute in case anyone peers inwards. Just a cat, just a cat, just a cat.

After a safe enough period of time has passed without movement at the mouth of the alleyway, he rolls over onto his hands and knees, stands and rubs at his back. "I shoulda started this ten fucking years ago," he mutters to himself, as he sets a foot on the bottom rung and tests to be sure it hasn't rusted through.

Finding the ladder secure, Hagan begins the slow and aching climb up to the fire escape, pulling his sore body up to the second floor windows. Once he's on the catwalk, it's a far easier ascent up rickety black iron grating to the fourth floor. Though by the time Hagan is four stories up, staring down at a dark alley in the middle of the night, he realizes just how unsettling every creak of loose bolts held into brick are. A few clunking footfalls takes him outside of the window of apartment 403, a large and spacious victorian style flat with hardwood flooring and antique furniture. Paintings hang around on all of the walls, a mixture of oil and acrylic paintings, most of them landscapes, one of them clearly a reprint of the famous Warhol tomato soup can — or — that has to be a reprint, right?

Outside of view from the window, fromsomewhere in the kitchen, the shadow of the house's resident darts around in the glow of kitchen lights, unable to be seen from the window. However, in the middle of the living room this window looks into, there is a small tan colored dog — a shih tzu — just curled up on a throw rug in front of a leather sofa.

It's times like this Hagan wishes he could actually turn to shadow or else did something more useful than make things really dark. For instance, if those bolts gave way, all the darkness in the world isn't going to stop him from breaking his back. They really should check the code on these damn things more often. He settles himself by the window, careful to bend away any shadow that might fall inside the apartment from outside. He watches the dog and mumbles to himself, "If he's such a recluse, then how does he walk the little fucker?" The dog is squinted at.

He shifts to the left and right, trying to see anything that might uh…look Brill-ish? Or in new wrapping. He's about out of tricks here

Leaning to the left, all Hagan can see are a pair of impressionist paintings of Venice, Italy, notable by the gondolas and waterways. Across from the window, a painting of an old galleon tossed at sea in the middle of a storm at night. Leaning to the right, his eyes settle on a spot on the wall between two picture frames where something could hang. His eyes narrow, brows lowering as he spots a hook there, ready to accept a painting.

"You've been a very good boy, haven't you?" Comes the voice from the kitchen, causing a flutter of a heartbeat in Hagan's chest from the sudden sound of it. Soon, a tired old man in a flannel robe with gray slippers on comes walking out from the kitchen, not carrying any sort of prepared meal in hand, but a gold-leaf painting frame, "Yes, daddy will make you din-din soon yes he will." Comes the sweet-as-candy response to the tiny dog from a man who was moments ago cantankerously grumbling about kids and neighbors.

Moving ingo the living room, he leans the painting up with the back facing the window, and proceeds to slowly crouch down on the rug next to his tiny, rug-rat of a dog, scratching lightly under its chin with one finger, "You're such a good boy, yes you are, yes you are!"

Oh come on.

Hagan has better things to do than watch an old man coddle his dog. He's clearly not going to learn anything else without backup, so he starts to very carefully climb down the ladder. Even if the window happened to be open, there's no way he's sneaking around an apartment with a small, yappy dog. He'll have to leave the break and enter to the pros. Once he's on the ground again, he pushes the ladder back up as quietly as he can and quietly tips over the garbage can. It's either that or pick up the garbage, and he's really not in the mood for that.

He really needs a drink.

With a heavy sigh, back out on the street, Hagan listens to the rush of cars passing by, the glow of headlights soon revealing him standing on the sidewalk, as if peeling away a thick layer of fog that had covered him in the black of night. The building isn't going anywhere, not at the moment, and Hagan knows a few people to call about this predicament.

Though, he might leave out the part about the guard dog.


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February 17th: I Want In
Previously in this storyline…
Prophetic Aggravation

Next in this storyline…
Hard Times For Dishonest Men

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February 17th: Hard Times For Dishonest Men
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